Stewart-Haas Racing forges ahead without its namesake

Todd Warshaw

As Tony Stewart lies in an Iowa hospital recovering from a broken leg, the NASCAR team that bears his name is forging ahead without its owner/driver.

Tony Stewart is referred to as "Superman" by Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli. But "Superman" will be sidelined a minimum of three weeks with a broken leg, accordingly the team that bears his name has no choice but to move on without its leader.

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

Before Monday's crash at a dirt track in Iowa that fractured his right leg in two places, Stewart was in line to claim a spot in NASCAR's Chase, sitting 11th in points and leading the wild card standings.

But any talk of the No. 14 team competing for the championship is now extinct.

And as Zipadelli, the former crew chief for Stewart when the two were at Joe Gibbs Racing, admitted Wednesday, it's discouraging to know Stewart was injured in a sprint car race, effectively ending his NASCAR season.

"Will people be frustrated, will people be disappointed down the road and things of that nature, I don't know?" Zipadelli said. "Hopefully we'll do a good job of encouraging them and going to the racetrack and having good runs, and we'll make the best of the situation."

Stewart himself is among those frustrated, according to his longtime friend. In fact, Zipadelli said Stewart was "hugely disappointed" that he got hurt and will have to miss three races and likely more.

"He's in good spirits, a lot of pain, trying to get comfortable," Zipadelli said. "But overall he's worried about what everybody thought and is apologetic and feels like he's letting everybody down here.

"At the end of the day the reason we're all here is because of him, so I know he'll get back in it and make it up to us."

Stewart's love of sprint car racing is something everyone at SHR understands. And it was that desire to race in non-NASCAR events that played a role in him deciding to form his own Sprint Cup team in 2009.

Zipadelli equated Stewart running dirt races to his version of hunting or fishing. But that passion comes with risks. As Zipadelli hinted at, it might be time for Stewart to scale back his extracurricular activates.

"I think (sprint car racing) makes him better at what he does here, but it obviously leaves the door open for a situation that we're in now," Zipadelli said. "I think that as many races as he's run in the past, we're probably lucky that this is the first time we're dealing with this to be perfectly honest with you."

In preparation for this weekend's race, the team named Max Papis to drive the No. 14 car at Watkins Glen. He was selected because of his road racing background along with his familiarity with Zipadelli when the two worked together at JGR.

Ironically, the team asked Papis to test Stewart's car last week at Road Atlanta. This gave the former Formula One and IndyCar driver an opportunity to build a rapport with Stewart's current crew chief, Steve Addington, and gives them a jump heading into Watkins Glen.

"Obviously, when the situation with Tony arose, I felt that if they needed my help, I was here and I was available," Papis said. "I know I have the confidence and the ability to go out there and do the best for them."

With the last couple of days being a whirlwind for everyone at SHR, the team has yet to determine who will drive the No. 14 car when the series returns to ovals in two weeks at Michigan. As of now, all options are being considered.

"We've got a few candidates and we're talking to a few people," Zipadelli said. "We've got a lot of people that have obviously reached out. We're not sure if we can put one person in until Tony gets back or we're going to have to do multiple people.

"Our main priority was to get Max in here yesterday, get the seat and all the things that we needed to change in this car and get this car headed to Watkins Glen this afternoon. Then we'll get behind some closed doors and kind of really decide who will be the best candidate for the 14 car and SHR to try and maintain what we can in owner's points."

More from SB Nation:

Tony Stewart has too much to lose by racing sprint cars

Tony Stewart breaks leg in sprint car crash

Denny Hamlin: 'Kyle Petty is a moron'

Danica Patrick wrecks, Travis Kvapil vents

Longform: The good times and hard life of Dick Trickle

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