KANNAPOLIS — Tony Stewart might be out of the drivers seat but he certainly remains in character.
The feisty three-time Sprint Cup Series champion seemed in good spirits and harboring his trademark sarcastic wit during a wide-ranging interview Tuesday at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters, his first since his Aug. 5 accident in a dirt car race that broke two bones in his right leg.
Stewart has been sidelined from his NASCAR ride since but said he is on track for a return in time for the 2014 Daytona 500 next February.
Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule, said Stewart, who arrived to the news conference in a wheelchair and a walking boot covering his lower right leg.
If we get done early, we dont have anything to gain by it. If we have a setback, we have a lot to lose by it. Every time the doctor says Im going to see you in so many days, I ask what do you want me to do through that period and what's the goal.
Stewart said his doctors believe he can make a 100 percent recovery, but admitted this is probably one of the hardest things Ive ever had to deal with.
This is definitely the worst injury Ive ever had in my life and racing career, he said. Its definitely been a big change from being probably one of the busiest drivers on the schedule to being in bed seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Stewart, 42, continues to recover at the Charlotte-area home of his longtime business manager, Eddie Jarvis. He is anxious, however, to get out more and will be in Richmond, Va., this week for a scheduled appearance and plans to visit the track, likely with the navigational assistance of a scooter.
Among the topics Stewart touched on Tuesday:
• He said his initial concern with team co-owner Gene Haas desire to add a fourth Cup team with Kurt Busch in 2014 was related to timing.
When Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday I was told that they had a contract ready, Stewart said. I wanted to make sure that we had the time. The timing is very tight, and were going to have to get a lot done in a short amount of time to accomplish this.
• Stewart said he was planning to cut his extracurricular racing schedule even before his injury.
Theres no time frame on when Im going to get back in (a sprint car), but Im definitely going to cut back the amount of races, just on scheduling purposes more than anything, he said.
• Stewart insisted his injury was just an accident and he his desire to race in motorsports outside NASCAR will not change.
It's just life, guys. Things happen every day that you cant guard against all the time, he said. You have got to live life. You cant spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion, youve wasted your time.
Through it all, Stewart obviously has retained his sense of humor.
Asked what he missed most besides being in the race car, Stewart said matter-of-factly: The hot girls.
I mean, when youre lying in bed theres not much traffic going through my room, he said.
Members of the media a frequent target of Stewarts verbal jabs throughout his career did not go unscathed on Tuesday.
After his introduction to start the news conference, Stewart quipped: Oddly enough, I actually miss you guys, which tells you that Im not healthy yet.
While joking, Stewart may have been partially serious as well.
As the nearly 11/2 hour news conference wound down and no one raised their hands for any further questions, Stewart panned the room demanding more.
If not, I have to go home and go bed, he said.
Clearly, thats not his first choice.