Well, Smoke is in a giant cloud right now.
Tony Stewart hasn’t learned his lesson, until Monday evening that is. After being involved in a series of accidents over the past few weeks, Stewart was involved in a four car wreck on Monday night in a Southern Iowa dirt track. Stewart reportedly limped out of the car and was alert once he exited the car. However, unfortunately for him, he broke his right leg in two places.
Stewart broke his right tibia and fibula during the wreck and had surgery immediately. Not only will Stewart be out for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, but he may also be out for a few races after that depending on how quickly he heals. It will be the first time in his career that Stewart will miss a race and will break his 521 consecutive starts streak which is currently third on the list behind Jeff Gordon, who’s never missed a race in 710 starts (and going), as well as Jeff Burton, who’s streak is at 613 races.
Missing Watkins Glen will certainly hurt Stewart’s hopes to make the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup as he’s currently 11th in points and is just five points behind Greg Biffle for 10th place in the standings. If Stewart returns to the car at Michigan, he’ll likely be at least 30-35 points outside of the top 10. He only has one win this year which means he’ll need at least two more before Richmond to lock himself into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Yet, if Stewart misses Michigan as well, he should just put the helmet down and get healthy for 2014.
Stewart will surely be hurting even more this weekend considering Watkins Glen is one of his favorite tracks. Coming from an open-wheel background, Stewart has always done exceptionally well on the road courses. At Watkins Glen, Stewart has an average finish of 7.9, including five wins and 10 top 10s in 14 starts, along with running every single lap within the past 14 years.
So, how does Stewart-Haas Racing pick a replacement for the team’s top driver who happens to be the car owner as well?
First of all, Stewart has a relationship with Chevrolet that goes above and beyond the usual partnership between a driver (and this case owner as well) and the manufacturer. Any driver that will drive the No. 14 car will likely be driving a Chevrolet (or has done so in recent years). Second, the driver must be a proven winner at the least. Finally, the driver must be approved by the sponsors which will be the toughest part of the whole deal. It’s the reason why Mark Martin wasn’t Denny Hamlin’s replacement this year since FedEX didn’t want him to represent them for a few races.
There’s a few viable options to replace Stewart this weekend. They’re all going to be drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and will definitely do well in the No. 14 if given the opportunity. Regan Smith, who drives a Chevrolet for JR Motorsports (with Hendrick Motorsports engines) could be a candidate for the ride considering he finished ninth at the Glen last year, but hasn’t been that consistent as of late.
Austin Dillon may be involved in talks as well since he already has a partnership with Bass Pro Shops, but they won’t be on his car this weekend as Mobil 1 will be. That leads to Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish has done exceptionally well this year with a plethora of top fives and has a past relationship with Mobil 1 back when he drove the No. 77 car for Penske Racing in the Sprint Cup Series. Stewart can also opt to pick a non-Chevrolet driver such as Elliott Sadler who’s a decent road course racer and will guarantee a clean race.
He could also go with a road course ringer such as Andrew Ranger, or even Justin Allgaier who’s been up front for several road course races for the past few years.
Overall, Stewart-Haas Racing has several options for the No. 14 car this weekend. Either way, he has a lot of thinking to do. Risking himself at Sprint Car races isn’t worth it. It’s understandable that he loves it. Yet, at the end of the day, his primary concern is the car he owns with sponsors that pay millions of dollars to be on his car.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.