BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) - Tony Stewart's broken leg apparently occurred in part because the torque tube in his sprint car came loose and hit him during his Aug. 5 accident in a sprint cup race in Iowa, Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli said Friday.
The injury is the most significant of Stewart's career and has sidelined the three-time NASCAR champion for the rest of the year.
Zipadelli and Mark Martin, who will replace him in 12 of the remaining 13 races, expect Stewart to return from the injury committed to improving safety in sprint car racing. Martin visited Stewart this week.
"I couldn't get a word in edgewise, if that tells you what two weeks of bed rest does for you," Martin joked. "He went into great detail about the accident and what caused the injury and the fix for that particular freak accident. He went through in great detail how they were going to address preventing that from ever happening again in sprint-car racing."
Stewart's sprint car schedule had him on pace to run about 100 events this year along with his NASCAR races, and Zipadelli isn't sure what Stewart's plans will be when he's cleared to get back into a car next year. The team has said he's expected to be ready to race by the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, and there's been no talk yet on Stewart not running sprint car races anymore.
"I don't think you can take Tony Stewart and tell him he can't drive other cars. That is what makes him who he is," Zipadelli said. "Can we get him to cut his schedule back? Can we get him to look at things? Can we help him with this movement of making those cars safer for everybody, including himself? I think those will be the things that come in the next couple of months."
Since his Aug. 11 release from the hospital, Stewart has been mostly confined to bed and uses a wheelchair. It's a far cry for a 42-year-old lifelong driver who traveled the country often racing six nights a week.
So while his physical recovery will be difficult, there will be some reflection on Stewart's part that could benefit him personally- on and off the track- and benefit Stewart-Haas Racing.
"Obviously he is struggling with the fact that he is not in the car and he's in this situation," Zipadelli said. "I hope and think that he will come back to Daytona with something to prove to the world and maybe he will turn over a whole new leaf. Hopefully he will come back here with a little bit different attitude and understanding how important (he is) and (how) we all rely on him. He's got a lot of kids at Stewart-Haas, you know what I mean. As we say, we are under his umbrella and I know he will do his best.
"I really think when he comes back I think he is going to be fired up and ready to show the world that all that time he has had cooped up there will hopefully pay larger dividends for next year and hopefully start the year off on a stronger note."
But Zipadelli also said improved safety in sprint cars is a passion for Stewart.
"I think he is bound and determined to change the sprint cars and making them safer and getting that movement going in the direction it probably should have happened years ago," Zipadelli said. "I think he is bound and determined to do that, which I think will help everybody over there."
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