Stewart steals show at Myers Brothers Awards
December 05, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
LAS VEGAS – Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart made a surprise appearance at this year's National Motorsports Press Association's Myers Brothers Awards luncheon, and left with a word of warning for the competition, including this year's championship-winning team of Jimmie Johnson.
"I gave you guys 14 weeks without me," he said, referring to his lengthy absence. "I'll be ready for Daytona and be back kicking your ass again, so you guys enjoy it."
The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and owner of Eldora Speedway, Stewart was presented the Myers Brothers Award for his contributions to the sport. The award, determined by a vote of the NMPA membership, has been presented annually since 1958.
Stewart, 42, suffered a broken right leg while competing in a sprint car race August 5 in Iowa. He subsequently underwent three surgeries, and is currently undergoing physical therapy.
While he isn't scheduled to be back behind the wheel before the start of next season, Stewart has maintained his stance that he will be ready for the 2014 season-opening Daytona 500, scheduled for Feb. 23.
"It was hard sitting on the sidelines watching, but it gave me a different perspective that I haven't seen in years of what we all do each week," he said of his time out of the No. 14 Chevrolet. "It was a lot of fun to sit there on the side and watch you guys do what we do."
Working with his management team, Stewart was able to convince NASCAR officials to award a Camping World Truck Series race to his Eldora facility for 2013. The Mudsummer Classic, held July 24, marked the first time a NASCAR national series had competed on dirt since 1970.
"It is crazy," Stewart said. "Steve O'Donnell (senior vice president of racing operations for NASCAR) probably deserves more credit for what we did at Eldora than anybody. … Everybody always asks us drivers if we can be president of NASCAR for a day, what would we do -- and I always joked around that a dirt race on the schedule would be great. And then Steve came to us two years ago and asked if we were really serious about it. …
"Our wheels went spinning in a bunch of different directions but Steve really made this happen. Roger Slack, who runs our facility at Eldora Speedway, just did a phenomenal job with our staff up there.
"To host an event takes a lot of time and effort and work and it takes a great staff to do that. I am very fortunate and blessed to have a good staff at Eldora and just very surprised by this. I thought I was coming to support my crew chief Matt Borland for his award and I’m very glad I came out now for sure."
Borland, crew chief for former SHR driver Ryan Newman, was attending the luncheon to receive the Moog Steering & Suspension Problem Solver of the Year award.
Nineteen individual awards were presented during the program, including those for NASCAR's Most Popular Driver -- won for the 11th consecutive time by Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- and the annual Buddy Shuman Award, which was presented to officials from Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota for their development of the Generation-6 platform which hit the track in 2013.
Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was officially recognized as the Sprint Cup Series' Sunoco Rookie of the Year as well.
But the event clearly was bolstered when Stewart, walking with a slight limp, surprised the crowd as he made his way to the stage for the afternoon's final presentation.
"This sport means a lot to me. It's … what our passion is. There are no hidden agendas, just passion and desire to do what we do," Stewart said afterward.
"I was so excited when Steve asked me about doing the truck race; to be a part of that and be a part of history with NASCAR, that wasn't the driving force behind it, but when you have time like we had with this injury to sit back and think about things, you realize what it means in the big picture versus just face value.
"It's just neat to be able to do what we do … I still don't know what to say."
The event was held in the Encore Ballroom of the Wynn Las Vegas. The Myers Brothers Award is named in honor of Billy and Bobby Myers, two of the sports racing pioneers.