After missing 13 races last season including the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, Tony Stewart has returned to the driver’s seat, but the 2014 season isn’t off to the start Stewart and his team had hoped. With a 35th-place finish at Daytona and a 16th-place finish at Phoenix, the only thing Stewart has given the NASCAR universe to talk about is his return.
It is understandable that maybe there is some rust and Stewart needs some time to readjust. Stewart-Haas Racing did go through some major changes in the offseason with the addition of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, so there might be some growing pains. But I think there is something bigger behind Stewart and his subpar start. I think that Stewart’s injury still haunts him.
Last year, Stewart was competing in a midget car race like he often does. He was caught up in a wreck and when it was all over, he had suffered a rather severe broken leg. It took nearly half a year to recover and rehabilitate, but Stewart has made it back into the race car.
Injuries in any sport, are usually no joke and can cause mental anguish for the sufferer. Compound the injury with a terrifying car accident, and that is a recipe for post-traumatic stress disorder. I am worried that Stewart’s injury might have left a residual effect on him as a race car driver, and that residual effect may affect his driving.
The sport of racing has seen similar instances such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., who suffered severe burns at Fontana Speedway a few years ago. The accident knocked him out of the race car for several races, and he is just beginning to regain his full confidence. Then there is Kyle Petty, who lost his son in a racing accident. After his son’s death, Petty’s racing suffered greatly.
Fans who watch from a far or through a television do not realize the impact or repercussions of the car accidents. These drivers are experiencing impacts that would normally turn the human body into a splat mark. Thanks to incredible technology, drivers are able to walk away from these bone-crushing impacts, but there is always one accident that injures or kills a driver.
I have tremendous respect for these drivers and their ability to get back into a race car after a crash. It is not easy to get into a speeding vehicle after you cheated death, but these drivers do it week after week. I hope that Stewart is just a tad rusty and his accident hasn’t changed him permanently. There is a chance that we never see the old “Smoke” again, but it is too early in his comeback to make that call.