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Stewart runs into problems but leg is fine

February 23, 2014, Holly Cain,

Engine problems result in 35th-place finish in Daytona 500

RELATED: Full race results | Series standings

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Before Sunday's Daytona 500 -- Tony Stewart's first Sprint Cup race in six months -- many wondered how the three-time Sprint Cup Series champ's healing broken leg would hold up to the demands of the sport's biggest race.

Turns out, his leg wasn't the problem. His car was.

Stewart first reported to his team there was a problem on his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet just before the race's midpoint. He noticed the gauges showed his car was experiencing a fuel pick-up problem and so he pit for the crew to see if it could make quick repairs.

After he returned to the track, it became apparent the car would require more extensive work. And after going down several laps early, he went to the garage where the team replaced the whole fuel cell.

So after waiting out a six-hour mid-race rain delay, having to start the 500 from the rear of the grid for changing his engine before qualifying, and then enduring a sickly car, Stewart finished his first race back in 35th  place -- 26 laps behind winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After the race, Stewart sat for a few moments inside his car collecting himself while fans in the garage screamed encouragement: "You'll get 'em next week, Tony."

Then he climbed out, spoke briefly to crew members and when asked how he felt on the night, simply responded, "I feel like I got kicked in the (midsection)."

Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli spoke with Stewart at more length. It was a difficult night for the entire four-car SHR operation. Danica Patrick was collected in a crash and Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch had several close calls as well, ultimately finishing 13th and 21st, respectively.

"Really any race today is so important, but you put so much emphasis on the Daytona 500 and you work all winter and try to build a little momentum heading to these other race tracks," Zipadelli said. "Today was a rough day for us, but we're strong people and we'll keep digging and hopefully we can rally back."

Zipadelli confirmed that Stewart passed his first racing test with no physical issues.

"Not at all, (his leg) was never (a concern)," Zipadelli said. "I'm proud of him for how hard he worked to put himself back in there. I feel really bad. I feel like we let him down."

Racing legend A.J. Foyt, Stewart's good friend, made the trip from his Texas home to Daytona Beach to be trackside and show his support of the fellow former open-wheel champion. The two -- who share the famed No. 14 -- spent time together catching up Saturday in Stewart's motorcoach.

"I just told him, try to be there at the end of the day if you want to win this race," Foyt said. "And Tony said he agreed with me. I'm pulling for him."

Foyt continued with a smile: "I said, you know Tony, when I was hurt so bad I came back and sat on the front row at Indy (500). He told me he qualified 10th (for Sunday's Daytona 500) so I told him, that shows you I was a lot better at my comeback. Now you've got to win."

Foyt also said he completely understands why Stewart continues to race outside his day job as an owner/driver in NASCAR's premier series. Stewart was injured Aug. 5 in a sprint car race in Iowa and required three surgeries to repair his right leg.  

"Life is very short and if you can't do what you want to do in life, what's the use of living," Foyt said. "He loves sprint cars like I did. I did about the same things he's doing. I never got hurt doing it and he did. It's just one of the unfortunate things.

"He'll be back and he'll win."


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