Tony Stewart will be ready for NASCAR season, with a day to spare

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 9, 2014 

— Tony Stewart will be cutting it close when he makes his return to NASCAR this season.

Stewart said he won’t be 100 percent when he returns but “I’ll be able to do my job 100 percent.”

Stewart, who broke two bones in his right leg in a sprint car race last August in Iowa, said he won’t be cleared to race until the day before he expects to run his first race – the Feb. 15 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

“It’s continuing to get better,” Stewart said of his leg. “We’ve got four more weeks to get ready. Luckily, this is a smooth race track. If it were Dover, I would be a lot more concerned.

“But the hard part with here is you’re just on the gas so long. That’s the only thing we’re worried about right now.”

Mark Martin is driving Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet during preseason testing this week at Daytona, although all track activity was washed out Thursday by persistent rain showers.

Stewart said he will resume his rehabilitation therapy Friday night.

“I feel like we’re doing the right stuff to get ready,” he said.

When Stewart returns to the track he will be joining two new teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick will drive SHR’s No. 4 Chevrolet this season and Kurt Busch will drive the No. 41. Danica Patrick will again drive the No. 10.

“I think every week we have three guys that can go out and win the race, and I think on the fourth driver, I think Danica has got potential to be more consistent this year,” he said. “I think we can win a lot of races. I think realistically we could get three cars in the Chase.”

Cup series gets new director

When the 2014 Cup series gets under way it will do so with its first new leader in a dozen years.

NASCAR on Thursday announced Richard Buck as the series' new managing director, replacing John Darby. Darby will remain at NASCAR as managing director of competition. Buck, along with Nationwide series director Wayne Auton and Truck series director, Chad Little, will report to NASCAR's vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.

Buck is vice president of racing operations for the International Motor Sports Association, a role he will maintain through the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona later this month. He is a former crew chief in the IndyCar Series and multiple-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m eager and ready to pursue this unique opportunity,” Buck said in a statement. “I look forward to helping the series competition team continue to produce the best racing in the world.”

One more ride for Rusty Wallace

As part of a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Cup series championship and the approaching 40th anniversary of the original Miller Lite beer, Team Penske invited Wallace to test the No. 2 Ford at Daytona this week.

Wallace, a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, planned to take some laps on Thursday, but testing was rained out. He hopes to run some laps on Friday.

“My face is hurting from smiling so hard all day long and we haven’t even gotten on the race track yet,” Wallace said. “This will be my first time driving the Gen-6 car, and I think it will give me a better perspective on how I cover the races for ESPN as an analyst.”

Changes to the points system?

Earlier this week, NASCAR Chairman Brian France alluded to the possibility of some changes to the points system that would put more of an emphasis on winning or encouraging teams to take more risks.

On Thursday, NASCAR President Mike Helton was asked whether changes were imminent. His response? “Stay tuned,” he said.

On track testing washed out

Persistent rain showers on Thursday washed out the first of a planned two-day Cup series test at Daytona. Teams are scheduled to test Friday beginning at 9 a.m.

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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