J.D. Gibbs, Michael Waltrip touch on sprint car crash, how they feel about their drivers running in non-NASCAR events
J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, says he learned one thing about Tony Stewart during the driver’s successful 10-year run with the organization.
“You don’t try to tell Tony what to do,” Gibbs said Tuesday.
Stewart, who won two of his three NASCAR Cup titles and 33 races while competing for JGR, suffered a broken right leg in a crash Aug. 5 during a sprint car race at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Stewart-Haas Racing, of which Stewart is co-owner, has named Max Papis to drive the team’s No. 14 Chevrolet in Saturday’s Cheez-It 355 (1 p.m., ESPN) at Watkins Glen International.
“You know, that’s where he came from,” Gibbs said of Stewart’s penchant for competing on the dirt in winged sprints. “So you just prayed a lot that he wouldn’t get hurt. He kind of did his own thing.
“I hate the fact that it happened to him, but it could happen to any driver out there.”
Stewart, who raced in open-wheel before making the transition to stock cars, often spends his time away from his Cup duties competing for his own Tony Stewart Racing organization, a separate entity from SHR. His schedule often includes 50 or more of the “outside” events each season.
Fellow team owner and driver Michael Waltrip was with Stewart and veteran racer Ken Schrader Aug. 1 at Paducah International Raceway, where Stewart and Schrader were competing.
“I got on the plane with Tony and he and I flew to Pocono (site of Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race) together,” Waltrip said. “He was talking about ‘I’m going to go here, and I’m going to go there and I’m going to race a sprint car there … and I’ve got to be in Atlanta (for testing),’”
“What you have to understand (is) he loves sprint cars. He loves them. We watched videos on his phone of sprint car races. He would say ‘you can see here I bobbled a little bit.’ He was like a kid. It’s his passion.”
Both JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing field multiple Cup teams, and each have drivers that compete in the occasional non-NASCAR event.
Gibbs said there are “some rules,” but added, “at the same time, if that’s their passion, you can’t say no to everything.
“You’d like less than more, obviously. You want to make sure they’re in safe stuff … it’s about all you can do.”
Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Toyota for MWR, fields a dirt Late Model team of his own.
“If Clint had shown up at Michael Waltrip Racing as a sprint car driver, knowing the dangers of it I would say, ‘can we consider maybe not running a sprint car? Maybe just run a dirt car, a dirt modified?’” Waltrip said. “Sprint cars are crazy fast.”
Waltrip said there is nothing written in stone that prevents his organization’s drivers from occasionally racing in non-NASCAR events.
“I just think it’s important for people to know that (Stewart) loves it,” Waltrip said. “And he is making people happy all over the country.
“People were so happy he was at Paducah to race. That’s his deal. He went to Iowa to race and unfortunately he got hurt.”