Three time Sprint Cup Champion, Tony Stewart sustained a broken leg while competing in a Sprint Car race at Southern Iowa Speedway Monday night. It was reported that Stewart was leading at the time when Sprint Car driver, Josh Higday, spun right in front of the Stewart as he charged into turn four of the semi-banked dirt oval track. Stewart with nowhere to go, got collected in the incident and his Sprint Car ended up on its side.
Stewart, 42, was conscious as medical crews got him out of the car and into an ambulance to be transported to a local hospital. He was then airlifted to a Des Moines hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair his broken right tibia and fibula. It has been announced by Stewart Haas Racing that Stewart will not race at Watkins Glen this weekend.
It was later announced by Stewart-Haas Racing officials that former Formula One Series driver Max Papis, will be Tony Stewart’s replacement for this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen It has also been announced that Stewart will have to have a additional surgery to better repair what his team is calling, a grade two injury. With that being said, if the surgery were to take place within the next week, it would certainly mean the end of Stewart’s championship hopes for 2013.
Stewart’s absence this weekend will be a huge blow to the Indianapolis native’s chances of making the chase as he currently sits 11th in points, five points out of tenth place. The three time champion could lose a maximum of 53 points to the leader’s every time he misses a race due to this injury. Stewart will miss The Chase if either two drivers who are wild-card eligible fall out of the top-ten in points, or if one driver who is eligible for the Wild-Card spot falls out of the top-ten and Martin Truex, Jr. and Ryan Newman passes him in points.
Another way Stewart can miss out on The Chase, is if any driver 11th through 20th in points is able to get a win in the next five races. The win of one of those drivers, coupled with either a driver falling out of the top-10 and either Martin Truex, Jr. or Ryan Newman passing him in the point standings, will result in Stewart missing the playoffs this season.
This isn’t the first time Stewart has gotten into a terrifying wreck outside of NASCAR’s premiere Series. Just one week ago Stewart wrecked violently at a local dirt track in Ontario, Canada, causing his Sprint Car to flip end over end at least five times before finally coming to a stop. Although the wreck looked bad, Stewart walked away from the crash uninjured.
When he was asked about the crash a few days later while at press conference at Pocono International Raceway, he responded to reporters saying
“You mortals have to learn, you guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff,” he said. “It was not a big deal. It’s starting to get annoying this week about that. That was just an average Sprint Car wreck. When they wreck, they get upside down like that.”
Although Stewart has for the most part walked away from dirt track racing incidents with only minor injuries, other dirt track racers haven’t been so lucky. 22 year old, Josh Burton lost his life in June after a Sprint Car accident at Bloomington Speedway in Indiana. Part time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, Jason Leffler also died in a fatal Sprint car crash at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey where his winged racecar hit the wall violently and flipped down the straightaway of the ¼ mile banked oval dirt track.
63 year old, Kramer Williamson also died last Sunday after a crash at Lincoln speedway in Abbottstown Pennsylvania. Williamson was driving his car during a ten lap qualifying period, when it began to climb another Sprint Car and hit the retaining of the track. Williamson’s car then flipped several times before coming to a rest farther down the track. He was then extracted from the car and airlifted to a hospital where he later died.
With the deaths of Jason Leffler, Kramer Williamson and Josh Burton, coupled with the injury of series veteran, Tony Stewart, many fans are left to speculate about what these top level drivers should and should not be doing with their spare time away from the sport of NASCAR.
NASCAR Sprint Cup teams pay these drivers millions of dollars to race these cars every weekend for 36 weeks a year. A driver like Jeff Gordon, who has been in the Sprint Cup Series for 22 years, earned over seven million dollars last season in the series, while Juan Pablo Montoya, who has only been racing in the Sprint Cup Series for seven years, earned over three million dollars last year.
So it is safe to say that these drivers make a lot of money when they sign on the dotted line for their respective team owners. But does the promise of millions, and the chance to live out a lifelong dream give these owners the right to tell these drivers they can’t race in another series due to the fact that they would be risking their career?
Let’s look at another factor in all this, sponsorship. Sponsors are what help drive NASCAR and help keep the sport alive today. If a sponsor signs a specific driver for a specific season or number of seasons, they want that driver and that driver only to race in that car. Not to mention the sponsors do pay the drivers a lot of money to carry their brand or logo on their fire suits, transporters and the hood of the racecar, so you can see how a sponsor would kind of get a bum deal if a driver became injured and was unable to compete in a race.
With all that being said, I believe if NASCAR teams were to institute restrictions or a ban on outside racing, it would be a major blow to the sport of auto racing. Let’s not forget that NASCAR was born on Saturday night racing at ½ mile dirt ovals in the south. Let’s not forget that the Sprint Cup Series actually used to have dirt track races on the schedule back in the 1960’s.
And let’s definitely never forget where most of these drivers started out before moving up the ranks of NASCAR’s three top series. Before coming to NASCAR, Tony Stewart cut his teeth on dirt track races all around the country, racing in quarter midgets, USAC Sprint Cars, and Late Model Divisions, not only because one day he wanted to make it to the big leagues of racing, but because racing is what this man loves to do.
Not only does this allow the drivers to get out on the track and do what they love to do most, it also helps NASCAR and the sport of auto racing as a whole. Think about it. If drivers like Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, and Denny Hamline are on the entry list at a local dirty track, you can bet your bottom dollar every racing fan within 400 miles will come to see the former dirt track racers come back to their racings roots.
The appearance of a Cup Series driver at a local dirt track could literally turn a few hundred fans in the stands to a packed house on a Saturday night, helping the economy of the town by attracting tourists to the track, and giving young fans something to aim for when they see their favorite daredevil’s race around. This in turn gives the small town dirt tracks a lot of good publicity in the racing world and even gives the rookie dirt track drivers more experience by racing with the veterans.
So virtually it’s a win for the drivers who get to do what they love. It’s a win for the short tracks that get to feature great racing between veterans and rookies, and it’s a win for the fans to get to see such spectacular beaten and banging Saturday night dirt track racing.
Yes there have been incidents in the past involving Sprint Cup Drivers, even incident that had nothing to do at all with dirt track racing or Sprint Cars. For example, In 2004 Sprint Cup regular, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered moderate burn injuries, when his Chevrolet Corvette crashed into a barrier and quickly burst into flames during practice for the Le Mans Series Grand Prix at Infineon Raceway. Despite burns to his face and lower body, Earnhardt Jr. didn’t miss a NASCAR Race that season.
Defending Sprint Cup Champion, Brad Keselowski, suffered a vicious foot injury after a crash at Road America Speedway back in 2011. Keselowski was testing his Sprint Cup car at the time, when it careened off course and hit the wall. He was then airlifted to the hospital and treated for his injuries. Like Earnhardt, Jr., keselowski did not miss any racing time in the Sprint Cup Series due to injury.
It seems evident that instead of fans and media analysts speculating that these drivers are endangering their careers by racing outside of NASCAR, they need to see that these people are doing what they love each and every night of their lives. They feel alive every time they step into a car and get ready for a race. These drivers don’t fear death or injury by any means. They know what can happen, and they take the risk anyway, because it’s simply what these drivers love and what these drivers were born to do.