Jeff Gluck, USA Today
CHARLOTTE -- Tony Stewart says his broken right leg will only be 65% healed by the time he's cleared to drive for Daytona Speedweeks, but the three-time NASCAR champion still believes he'll be fine once he gets back in the car.
Stewart has a titanium rod in his leg, which will provide it enough strength to press the pedals -- which he said he's done "a million times already" in the race shop. But Stewart still won't be cleared to drive until Feb. 14, the day before NASCAR's season-opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.
"Friday and Saturday coming up at Daytona are going to answer a lot of questions I have and that you guys have, too," Stewart told reporters on the first day of the annual Sprint Media Tour in Charlotte.
"We're doing everything we can to prepare for whatever scenario we can think of. I'm hoping we go out in the first session and we're going to say we worked way too hard (in therapy)."
Because Stewart's leg isn't fully healed, the driver acknowledged there's a risk he could aggravate the injury to his leg, which he badly broke in an Aug. 5 sprint car crash in Iowa. But he cited injuries to Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. last season as proof healthy drivers can break bones, too.
"This is an injury that's not healed 100% -- there's no bones about it," Stewart said before realizing he made a pun and chuckling.
"But it is reality that it could get injured again." Stewart said he's never questioned whether it was the right decision to try and come back. Doctors told him immediately after the crash that there was no reason he couldn't get his leg back to full health again, and he's kept that in mind through a difficult physical therapy process. Not a day goes by where Stewart doesn't have pain, he said.
"We're going to have that pain for awhile," he said. "Laying in bed isn't as comfortable as being in a street car right now."
And being in a race car -- with its molded seats -- is even better than sitting in a street car, he said. The team is trying to be proactive in putting extra padding in the car around the leg area to limit any potential discomfort. Stewart had to get fitted for a new seat because he lost so much weight during the early stages of his recovery, when he had no appetite.
"It's a very effective weight loss program, but I don't recommend it for everybody," he said.