Smoke itching to return after recent setback
October 16, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Delay in recovery after third surgery on leg 'feels like a jail sentence' says Stewart
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is back on his feet, literally, following a third surgery on his broken right leg, getting around on crutches and hoping his doctor will clear him to return to physical therapy later this week.
The Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet suffered a broken tibia and fibula when he crashed during a sprint car race on Aug. 5 in Iowa. He underwent two surgeries within the first week of the accident as doctors cleaned and treated the wound and inserted a metal rod to aid the healing process.
The most recent surgery, performed Oct. 7, became necessary when a small area on his right leg became infected.
"They said after we got through with the second operation that the first two months was critical as far as the risk of infection," Stewart said Tuesday evening in Charlotte. "I never dreamed I'd have to worry about it.
"We did a pretty good job of keeping it clean, doing everything the first couple of weeks as far as staying off it the way we were told to give the skin time to heal. It literally just came down to one spot under the skin; something was going on down there that it didn't like, it showed up on the surface and then we realized we had a problem."
Stewart said doctors removed a section "about the size of a dime … and pulled it all together.
"It's a little bit of a setback," he said. "Hopefully only two or three weeks, but still a setback.
"We were virtually at the end of that cycle that they were worried about, time-frame wise, and then all of a sudden. … We thought we were out of the woods with the infection part really. It was in a section, the only spot that didn't heal."
Stewart said he is scheduled to return to the doctor today, and is hopeful that he will be able to resume physical therapy Friday. He had been undergoing therapy three days a week for approximately 90 minutes each day, he said, and had progressed to the point that he could walk short distances without the aid of crutches before his most recent surgery.
The 42-year-old gladly took out his phone to provide evidence of his progress -- a video that showed him not only walking, but also climbing up and down a set of stairs without assistance.
While he's not quite back to square one, he said the most recent surgery was difficult to absorb.
"Physically I'm alright," he said. "I'm a little dejected. I've been pretty upbeat about the whole thing … until that happened. That just kind of took the wind out of my sails a little bit. That's why guys like (former NHRA drag racer) Darrell Gwynn, guys that have been through the ups and downs, keep checking in on me. They say 'how are you doing?' They're not asking how I'm doing physically. They're asking how I'm doing mentally with it.
"It's having guys like that who have been a support system that keep you pumped up. It's hard to tell people you're having a bad day. When I found out that I was going to have to stop the therapy and go in and get cut on again, it just deflates you."
A winner of 48 Cup races, Stewart was 11th in the points standings and in the running for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup before his accident. The SHR organization, which also fields teams for drivers Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick, obtained the services of Max Papis for the following week's race at Watkins Glen and Austin Dillon a week later at Michigan. Veteran Mark Martin was eventually named to compete in the remaining races for the No. 14 team, with the exception of this weekend's event at Talladega when Dillon will return to the driver's seat.
With Newman competing in the Chase before he becomes a member of Richard Childress Racing next year and expansion underway at SHR -- the group will add a fourth team for 2014 to accommodate newcomers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick -- there's a lot of activity taking place at the team's Kannapolis, N.C., shop.
"It's chaos right now," Stewart said of the activity. "You look at it on paper and it's supposed to work. But it's a long process and we're still trying to do the best we can do and give Ryan the best opportunity to get as good of a finish as we can the rest of the year.
"At the same time we're knocking walls down and building race cars and we've still got three teams to finish the year with. It's a lot to wrap your arms around."
There is little, however, that he can do at this time. He has been to the track -- he watched Saturday night's race at Charlotte from a condominium in Turn 1 -- and has been back to the dirt tracks on a couple of occasions.
"You miss everything," he said. "The good thing is I've been able to go back to the track, been able to see the officials, get to talk to my team. I haven't been able to be around them a lot, but I value the time I have had.
"It feels like a jail sentence to me. You just do your time. You don't know when you're going to get out but you know you're going to get out eventually."