SHR lining up replacements for rest of 2013
August 16, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Greg Zipadelli is working under the assumption that Tony Stewart will be out for a month or longer with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash earlier this month. But the Stewart-Haas Racing competition director is sounding as if he’s preparing for the worst.
NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Austin Dillon is driving Stewart’s No. 14 car this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, the second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event the three-time champion has missed since breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg. No timetable has been given for Stewart’s return, and SHR is working on a replacement driver schedule for the remainder of the 2013 season -- something Zipadelli plans to have solidified before the circuit moves to Bristol next weekend.
“It will be two drivers probably the rest of the year, just to … try to get them guys to try to build some chemistry and get the best finishes we can,” said Zipadelli, who won two championships as Stewart’s crew chief when both were at Joe Gibbs Racing. “We’re still 11th in owners’ points. That’s a big deal, and we can look at that, and that’s kind of what we’re focused on right now. We are working on (a driver lineup), it’s just too early to talk about.”
Does that mean Stewart won’t return this season? According to doctors, typical recovery time for such an injury begins at four to six weeks, although that can last considerably longer for athletes -- including a race car driver who needs use of that right leg to work the pedals. Stewart had a follow-up visit with a physician on Wednesday, and Zipadelli said all went well. But the three-time champ is still occasionally in a lot of pain, and is under doctor’s orders to stay in bed with the leg elevated to reduce swelling.
When Zipadelli and a few other SHR team members met with Stewart on Thursday, the driver was in a wheelchair. But Zipadelli emphasized Friday that Stewart was doing well mentally, and that he was still the same old Tony. “He was pretty ornery Wednesday night when I left,” Zipadelli said. But does planning a replacement driver schedule for the remainder of the season mean Stewart will be out that long?
“We don’t know that yet. I’m working under the assumption that he’s out for the next month or so or longer. He went to the doctor’s this week, he had a decent visit. No setbacks. Basically, very simple instructions: ‘Stay in his bed with your leg up over your heart for the next seven days, and then come back and see me. We’ll re-evaluate you and tell you what you can do.’ That’s what he’s doing,” Zipadelli said.
“I saw him Wednesday night, we spent some time together, spent a couple hours together (Thursday) just kind of filling him in on all the things that we’ve got going on. He’s in great spirits, and they changed some of his medicines and things of that nature. He’s going through a little bit of a transition period, but … the doctor’s appointment went well, or as good as it can. He said the next seven to 14 days will tell a lot of how it heals, how those things take. … It’s going to be a really slow process.”
For the moment the focus turns to Dillon, whose best Sprint Cup finish in nine previous starts came in an 11th-place run at Michigan in June. Given that Dillon usually competes for another organization, Richard Childress Racing, SHR won’t share particulars about the race car or ask its interim driver about setup specifics from earlier this season. Dillon’s feedback to crew chief Steve Addington will consist primarily of “tight” or “loose.”
“We’ve got to be very respectful of our partners at Hendrick Motorsports and things,” said Zipadelli, whose team receives engine, chassis and technical help from Hendrick. “So I’ve talked with Hendrick Motorsports, I’ve talked with Richard Childress about it, and we’ve all agreed that Austin will just get in and give tight/loose and drive the hell out of it.”
Dillon is also juggling double duty this weekend with a Nationwide race Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The series points leader practiced Thursday at Mid-Ohio, and will take a helicopter back to the road course after getting in some Sprint Cup practice on Saturday morning -- a schedule that means missing Nationwide qualifying that same day. Dillon appeared in the Michigan media center Friday sporting a new Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops firesuit, and of course his trademark cowboy hat.
“I’ve been able to be pretty successful at finishing a lot of laps in my career,” the 23-year-old said. “I think trying to put ourselves in position at the end of the race to get a top-15 would be great.”
Zipadelli said Dillon would likely be in the No. 14 car for at least one more race, although the details had yet to be firmed up. The team has been so busy getting the vehicle prepared for another driver that it hasn’t had much time to stop and reflect on the larger picture of Stewart being out indefinitely. Back at the shop, management stresses business as usual -- even if it’s clearly not.
“Everybody has been pretty good, honestly,” Zipadelli said. “We’ve been so busy trying to work through all these details, and seats and seat brackets and all the things that have gone on in the last two weeks, that these guys haven’t had time to stop, I don’t think, really, and reflect on what’s going on in the year. … We’re 11th in owners’ points, and that’s the message that we keep driving to these guys, that it is business as usual. There’s no reason in the world that we can’t be in the top-10 with where we’re at, and that’s our goal, to continue fighting as hard as we can, do the best we can to represent our sponsors, and keep the boss smiling at home that we did a good job with what we had to work with.”