Smoke Returns: The 2014 Sprint UnlimitedPosted by in General
I had been waiting (sometimes not so) patiently for nearly 7 months: Tony Stewart’s return to the NASCAR circuit. I will admit it freely- I did not hold the same enthusiasm for NASCAR after August 4th of last season as I had before. It wasn’t the same without my driver. That said, I was apprehensive about his return. Two busted leg bones, infection, three surgeries, physical therapy…that is a lot to come back from. But after listening to his media from Daytona this week- I was lulled into a sense of security. Tony was in a good mood. He seemed to be feeling good- he said that the last two weeks- even he had been impressed with his rehabilitation. He was obviously chomping at the bit to get back into the car. He claimed he had no fear, no worries (I honestly don’t see how this is possible after such a major injury but good for him) and that there was no back up driver waiting in the wings should it be too much (well not a real one anyway- he did tell journalist Bob Pockrass he was his back-up driver). Tony displayed his normal charisma and swagger during media. Not only was my beloved NASCAR back for the season but my driver was back in the saddle again*!
I heard good things about practice for the shootout- Tony’s first time driving the 14 since Pocono (I think) last season. He was comfortable (he used the it’s like an old pair of shoes analogy) and the car was competitive. Both things I like to hear. Tony Stewart was ready for the Unlimited and so was I.
If you are new to BadGroove- one thing that you should probably know is that I am not a huge fan of Super Speedways (Daytona and Talladega). I think it is dangerous at best. Not to mention the fact that I am not a huge fan of sitting there worrying about when the “big one” is going to hit when I should be sitting there enjoying the racing action on the track. I like my races closer and determined by the driver not fate. I like rubbing, but not wrecking. Now I have a new reason to worry. While Tony Stewart may be ready to race- his leg is only 65% healed. You can’t expedite bones healing- the body heals in it’s own, often frustratingly slow time. While I have absolutely NO DOUBT that that car is as safe and padded as it can possibly be- driving at Daytona often means that you are in danger of being in “the big one” and more often then not- that big one is caused by someone else.
However- the Unlimited field is a small field. Another reason I was lulled into a sense of security. It’s a perfect “prerace” with a smaller field- Tony will be able to get a feel for what the leg will feel like during race conditions and will have nearly a week to figure out if something needs to be changed in the car before the big race. I was so excited during the National Anthem that I couldn’t be still. When the green flag dropped I was so ready- I could only image Tony was as well.
The car seemed sporty. Tony was one of the few drivers in the field making moves. Switching from one pack to another pack, moving around- testing small three car drafts and the like. Like he said on his radio “I’d rather try than just sit there.” It made me pleased to see him moving around on the track- working the car. Yep he was back. Typical of the racing at restrictor plate tracks like Daytona and Talladega, Tony was all over while he was moving around on the track- he was as low as 17th and and as high as third. Yet another thing not to like about Super Speedway racing- is it’s unpredictable- your diver can go to make a move and work his way up to third in one run and then the next time he does the same thing- he ends up losing 16 spots instead of gaining them.
Tony called for some adjustments during the break between the first and second segments of the race. Then they were all racing again- when IT happened. The big one that literally wiped out HALF the field (not hard when you have a truncated field like what you do for the Unlimited- which really is limited entrant wise so the name doesn’t really make much sense there does it?). And it was then that I tensed up and was horrified. Right before my eyes, one car gets into another car- and I watch Tony duck low to the inside to try to avoid it- but the car gets pushed towards the apron and he has no where to go- except for right into the car nose first. Another car, Jeff Gordon, also has no where to go and runs into the back of Tony, and Kurt Busch has no where to go and slams in the back of Jeff Gordon so hard that it lifts Jeff Gordon’s rear wheels off of the track as they are pushed like a train along the outside wall of the speedway. Ricky Stenhouse Jr felt left out and did to Kurt Busch what he did to Jeff Gordon. It seemed like it took forever for them to all come to a rest. From the initial camera angle I could see that Tony was moving around in his car- but since the camera was from the passenger side I was unaware that he had put his window net down. He was slow to get out. But he had said during media that getting in and out of the car- was still a challenge. I sat there hoping he was okay. I was not relieved- even when I saw him get out of the car under his own power. I would not be relieved until Tony was interviewed after leaving the Infield Care Center and even then I was still a little discombobulated. He said he felt okay- and didn’t really have any pain after the wreck- but he’d “see what it felt like in an hour or so after the adrenaline wore off.”
Thank goodness this wasn’t a points race- because it was a bad race for all Stewart-Haas entries- all sustained considerable damage during the race. The winner of the Sprint Unlimited was Denny Hamlin.
I hope that Tony isn’t too sore today since it is Daytona 500 Pole qualifying day. Although I honestly do not see the point of even bothering to qualify for the Daytona 500 when he already knows he is going to have to start in the rear of the field. I don’t understand why- since his engine change was pre-qualifying and pre-duels. I can see starting in the back during the duels- that makes sense since Daytona has a different qualifying procedure than most races. However- I do not understand having to start in the back for the 500 as well – for an “unapproved” engine change. Should he just putt around out there in a blown motor waiting for NASCAR to black flag him and tell him he has to change a motor? I don’t get that rule at all.
Notes About The Sprint Unlimited:
1. Was I the only one who found the race ticker that Fox Sports 1 used for the Unlimited incredibly annoying?
2. Here is a great article I read about Tony and his recovery that you might want to read.
3. Loved that Jeff Gordon went RIGHT over to Tony after the melee to make sure that he was okay! That shows compassion and class.
4. Anybody know what exactly caught on fire on the Chevy SS pace car during the caution? It looked like it was coming from the rear of the pace car. Yikes. Luckily it seemed like the fire crew got there quickly and got that taken care of quickly! Not exactly a stirring advertisement for the Chevy SS now is it?
Gratuitous Tony Stewart Pictures (so many pictures to choose from!):
*My brain sang my favorite Aerosmith song when I typed that.
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