SHR preparing for Stewart absence

Updated: August 8, 2013, 7:32 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Stewart-Haas Racing is moving forward as if three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will not be available to drive for at least several weeks.

Stewart broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg during a Monday night sprint car race in Iowa. He underwent surgery after the crash and again Tuesday and is scheduled for one more.

Road course specialist Max Papis will drive the No. 14 car this weekend at Watkins Glen. SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said he has talked to several other candidates for the ride moving forward. He said more will be known in the next 24 to 48 hours after the second surgery.

"We will have a much better idea of what the healing process will be and will be able to do a better job," Zipadelli said. "Is it six weeks or is it longer? Honestly, we do not have an answer for that right now.

"As far as next week and on, we have a few candidates. We're talking to a few people. We're not sure if we can put one person in until Tony gets back or we'll use multiple people."

Zipadelli was emphatic that Stewart will miss multiple races, which will end his chances of making the Chase.

Dr. Walt Beaver, the co-medical director at OrthoCarolina in Charlotte that heads up the clinic's NASCAR division, could not speak specifically to Stewart's injury, but he told ESPN.com on Tuesday that, in general, a broken tibia and fibula require four to eight weeks before the patient can resume somewhat normal activities.

Stewart is 11th in points with five races left in the regular season. Only the top 10 and two wild-card drivers with the most wins between 11th and 20th make the Chase.

"Let's face it, everybody first and foremost is worried about how soon is he going to be back," Zipadelli said. "He is a crucial part of Stewart-Haas Racing. He's the man. Everybody right now has pulled together and is doing whatever it takes to get this car to Watkins Glen and have the best day we can there.

"It's really too early to say anything other than that. Will people be frustrated down the road? I don't know. Hopefully, we'll do a good job of encouraging them and making good runs. Everybody here is disappointed Tony is not in the car this weekend."

Zipadelli said Stewart has been active in helping make decisions moving forward. He said Stewart remains in a lot of pain and has been apologetic for putting the team and organization in this position.

"At the end of the day, we're all here because of him," Zipadelli said of Stewart, who left Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2008 season to become the co-owner/driver at SHR. "I know he'll get back in it and make it up to us."

But Zipadelli said the situation will create the opportunity to discuss whether Stewart should spend so much time driving sprint cars and other forms of motorsports outside of the Cup series.

"It's a tough one," said Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief at JGR for his first two titles. "We all know that. We all know Tony loves to do those races. We know that's his golf game. It's his hunting, his fishing, all the things the rest of us do.

"There is a difference in the amount of responsibility we have and obligations to other people. That's kind of where it gets sticky."

While Zipadelli stopped short of saying he would suggest Stewart back off his sprint car schedule, he said competing outside of NASCAR "makes him better at what it does."

"It also leaves the door open for the situation we're in right now," Zipadelli added. "We'll do our best at Stewart-Haas, sit down and evaluate it. It's going to be a lot easier to look at and talk about because of the situation we're in moving forward.

"That doesn't mean anything other than we'll discuss it and do what's best for Stewart-Haas in the future."

Zipadelli said the key is getting Stewart healed "so it's not something that bothers him the rest of his life."

Beaver said everybody heals at different rates from this type of injury. He said the surgery typically requires a rod being placed in the leg to allow the broken bones to heal. He said a race car driver could come back sooner than an athlete that depends on his legs for running, but there are other inherent risks.

Because a driver sits for a long period of time, Beaver said blood thinners likely would be prescribed to prevent clots. A driver isn't likely to be medically cleared while on blood thinners because that opens the risk of bleeding to death if involved in an injury.

Once the driver returns, Beaver said the risk of re-injuring the tibia during another wreck isn't great with a rod because the impact would have to be extremely hard to break it.

"Most of them, when we put a rod in, then you really can get aggressive with rehab," Beaver said. "You can get back into activities within four, six to eight weeks, but reduced activities of weight bearing."

Meanwhile, the focus is on Watkins Glen. Zipadelli said Papis was selected because he tested for Stewart at Road Atlanta and has good communication with crew chief Steve Addington.

Papis hopes his "personality and spirit" is good for the team.

"I believe the joy I bring in my heart and joy I bring for the sport is hopefully going to bring up the morale for the organization," he said. "Obviously, a good result would be better even."

Papis said people shouldn't make a big deal over whether Stewart should have been competing outside of Cup, reminding a driver can be hurt walking on the street.

"Stewart is good at what he does because he is Tony Stewart," Papis said.

Zipadelli said for as many sprint car races as Stewart has run in the past he's surprised he hasn't been hurt before. He admitted sponsors are disappointed, and they'll be reaching out to them more moving forward to make sure whoever replaces Stewart will best represent the brand.

"This is a big deal," Zipadelli said. "It's going to take everybody as a team working together. We'll get through it and do a good job, and hopefully they'll all be proud of how Stewart-Haas deals with everything."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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