Stewart-Hass' Chase Focus Shifts To Newman After Stewart's Bad Break
The chance to make The Chase is virtually over for one of the “Brickyard Legends” as a broken leg from a sprint car crash in Oskaloosa, Iowa, will be the end of the road for two-time Brickyard winner and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart.
But while it’s probably the end of the road in this year’s “Race to the Chase” for Columbus, Ind., resident Stewart, it’s another sign that Stewart is a “racer’s racer.”
Stewart, a former IZOD IndyCar Series driver and three-time USAC National Champion in Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown racing, underwent two surgeries this week after suffering a broken tibia and fibula in a sprint car crash Monday night, Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway. Stewart did not sustain any other injuries. Stewart will remain hospitalized for observation, and it’s uncertain how long he will be out of the driver’s seat of his No. 14 Chevrolet.
Stewart is a throwback to the old days of racing, when drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Bobby Allison competed in more than one form of racing. They might drive five or six different race cars in a given week.
In true Stewart style, he was leading the 30-lap American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) feature when a lapped car spun in front of him. Stewart hit the lapped car and flipped.
This came just one day after he finished ninth in last Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway. That finished dropped him out of the top 10 in points to 11th, but he was only five points behind Greg Biffle for the 10th position that would automatically get into the Chase based on points. With one victory, Stewart was also in line for one of the two Wild Card positions that round out the 12-driver Chase.
Stewart’s injury will prevent him from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contest at Watkins Glen International this weekend. Veteran racer Max Papis will serve as the interim driver for Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet. Papis tested the car July 30 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga.
In 35 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, Papis scored his career-best finish of eighth at Watkins Glen in 2009. He is a seven-time winner in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, which includes a Daytona Prototype victory at Watkins Glen and the 2004 Sahlen's Sports Car Grand Prix. Papis won the 2004 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship with co-driver Scott Pruett and is a two-time winner of the prestigious Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, in 2000 and 2002. His most recent NASCAR start was in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series at Tours Speedway in France, where he finished second July 6.
Papis, 43, has competed in Formula One, IndyCar, sports cars and other NASCAR divisions, including the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and Canadian Tire Series. He is from Como, Italy, and is a political science graduate of Milan University. He resides in Mooresville, N.C., with his wife, Tatiana, and sons, Marco and Matteo.
The 355k at The Glen will mark Papis’ 36th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his fourth Sprint Cup start at Watkins Glen. His most recent Sprint Cup start came on Aug. 15, 2010 at Michigan International Speedway when he started 21st and finished 41st, retiring after 27 laps with a broken rear gear.
Papis made 113 CART/Champ Car starts between 1996 and 2003, scoring three wins, two of which came on road courses. Papis won the 2001 race at the 1.969-mile Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and the 2001 race at the 2.238-mile Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.
“Max and I have worked together in the past when I was at Joe Gibbs Racing with Joey Logano,” said Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart Haas Racing. “He helped us and went to Road Atlanta test with us and helped, and then Steve Addington and the 14 car wanted to do a Road Atlanta test about two weeks ago, and we reached out to Max, and he was able to do it. Tony had some commitments and was going to come down the second day.
“They had the car that we're racing, the primary car at Road Atlanta. We tested it with Max. He did a really good job. Steve felt like he had a good relationship with Max. They communicated well. So, in all honesty, it was a perfect shoe-in for us because, as I said, we had been working together recently. There was also a little dialogue between Steve and Max. I've had a relationship with Max for a while now, so we just felt like it was our best bet to be able to communicate well over the weekend and get the most out of the car that we could.”
Just as Stewart is one of the most versatile drivers in racing, so is Papis. That makes him an excellent choice to take over Stewart’s ride this week on the road course at Watkins Glen.
“I want to wish Tony a quick recovery,” Papis said. “I mean, he had odd circumstances, and it's never good that something like this is happening. But obviously I was here in Haas Racing like a long time ago when I actually raced for Haas Racing in Sonoma, and I was just a part of the test schedule, to go there and help them out, and obviously when the situation with Tony arose, I felt that if they needed my help, I was here, and I was available.
“I know I have the confidence and the ability to go out there and do the best for them. I called Zippy, and I told him if you need my help I am going to be here and available, and I let go and let the Lord take care of everything else.”
The driver who will race that car next weekend at Michigan remains to be determined, Zipadelli said.
“As far as next week and on, we've got a few candidates and we're talking to a few people,” Zipadelli said. “We've got a lot of people that have obviously reached out. We're not sure if we can put one person in until Tony gets back or we're going to have to do multiple people.”
The next few weeks will be a challenging one for Zipadelli and the SHR organization, but he is confident the operation can endure through this difficult time.
“We need the next two or three weeks lined up, and that's what we're going to start working on this afternoon or tomorrow, and as soon as we have something, I promise we'll do our best to get it out to you,” Zipadelli said Wednesday. “But there's nothing there now. It's taken us all day yesterday - we were in Atlanta for the tire test, had to wake up pilots, get on a plane yesterday morning, fly home. We didn't get to the shop until 8:30 by the time we landed. Honestly we were just a little bit behind all day, and Watkins Glen and dealing with our sponsors and making sure that they were all on board and doing everything we can to make the best of a bad situation. So like I said, as soon as we get done with this, we'll start working on the next few weeks.”
Zipadelli certainly understands Stewart’s love and desire to race anything, any time, anywhere and fully expects Stewart to have that same passion in the future.
“Hey, it's a tough one,” Zipadelli said. “We all know that. We all know Tony loves to do those races. We know that that's his golf game, that's his hunting, his fishing, all the things that the rest of us do. You know, there is a difference in the amount of responsibility we have and obligations to other people, and that's where I think that's kind of where it gets sticky.
“I think it makes him better at what he does here, but it obviously leaves the door open for a situation that we're in now. I think that as many races as he's run in the past, we're probably lucky that this is the first time we're dealing with this, to be perfectly honest with you. You know, we'll do our best at Stewart-Haas to put pieces together and sit down and evaluate it, and I think it would be a lot easier to look at and talk about things right now because we’re in the situation that we're in moving forward.
“That doesn't mean anything other than we will talk about it, we'll discuss it and we'll try and do what's best for Stewart-Haas and our partners in the future.”
To hear that Stewart was injured came as a bit of a shock. After all, Stewart has always projected a big persona. While other drivers may get sidelined; he was always able to overcome.
“I was in a hotel room in Atlanta when I got the call,” Zipadelli said. “We always get updates. He texts me every night after a heat race, qualifying; doesn't matter what time it is or what's going on. And when my phone went off, it wasn't a text or the call that I had expected. Honestly, like I said, he's run so many of these races and flipped in those things. I think me and him and everybody around us didn't think Superman could get hurt. This is his day.
“As far as morale, everybody at Stewart-Haas, all of our partners have been extremely, extremely positive, supporting in all the things that we need to do to keep racing, and hopefully, like I said, we're certainly wishing him a speedy recovery.
“Let's face it, first and foremost everybody is worried about Smoke and how soon is he going to be back. He's a crucial part of Stewart-Haas Racing. I mean, he's the man. Everybody, I think, right now has pulled together and doing whatever it takes to get this car to Watkins Glen and have the best day that we can there, and we'll kind of take it week by week. I think it's real early to say to you anything other than that because that's truly the atmosphere and the situation that we're dealing with here. I think will people be frustrated, will people be disappointed down the road and things of that nature? I don't know. Hopefully we'll do a good job of encouraging them and going to the racetrack and having good runs, and we'll make the best of the situation.”
Zipadelli wants Stewart back soon because he considers him like a brother. And like most brothers, he wants to make sure he is OK and then give him a little tough love for getting hurt in the first place.
“I told him to hurry up and get his butt down here because I was going to break his other leg, like some of my ancestors used to do, old school, and maybe beat him with it, jokingly,” Zipadelli said of his conversation with Stewart. “But he's in good spirits, a lot of pain, trying to get comfortable, but overall he's obviously – he was worried about what everybody thought and apologetic and feels like he's letting everybody down here. At the end of the day, the reason we're all here is because of him, so I know he'll get back in it and make it up to us.”
Stewart’s “Race to the Chase” is all but officially over. But there is one driver at Stewart Haas Racing who still is attempting to get into the 12-driver lineup for the final 10 races of the season that will determine the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman of South Bend, Ind.
Newman is 15th in the standings, 24 points out of the Chase. But with his win in the Brickyard 400, he has a very important victory that can get him into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 go to the drivers with the most victories of the drivers in positions 11-20 in points after the Sept. 7 race at Richmond International Raceway.
“I think obviously now that the 39 (Newman) is our only chance, we will do whatever we can to help,” Zipadelli said of the Chase. “I don't know that it's any more than what we have been doing, but we'll certainly do our best to work together as a team, and if there's anything they need, we will certainly do our best to give them what they need to have that opportunity.”
Two weeks ago, Zipadelli, Stewart and Newman were riding high after Newman’s win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But a tremendous valley has followed that mighty peak.
“Obviously it's a huge letdown to everybody at Stewart-Haas, knowing that we were making some great strides,” Zipadelli said. “I think we've had some drastic improvements in the performance on the racetrack. I felt like we were peaking at the right time with two race cars having an opportunity.
“It's a huge disappointment, but we'll try to do our best to take that disappointment and turn it into a positive push for the 39.”