Stewart-Haas Racing has no shortage of options to replace injured Tony Stewart

Jerry Markland

With Tony Stewart out indefinitely, who will drive the No. 14 car in his absence?

One man's misfortune is another's man's opportunity, and since Tony Stewart's return from a broken leg is indefinite, a seat with a top-flight NASCAR team is suddenly available.

Stewart will miss at least three races, according to Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli. An exact determination of when Stewart will be back behind the wheel of his No. 14 Chevrolet won't be made until after he undergoes a second surgery on his leg that is broken in two places.

In the meantime, the team he owns presses on with noted road racer Max Papis taking the reins this weekend at Watkins Glen. He was chosen because he tested for the team last week at Road Atlanta, where he worked with crew chief Steve Addington.

As for who will drive the following week at Michigan, that is still to be determined.

"We've got a few candidates and we're talking to a few people," Zipadelli said Wednesday. "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 if we're going to have to do multiple people."

In an interview Thursday morning on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio, Addington said he expects to see a list of potential names sometime Thursday afternoon and from there a decision will be made.

The obvious frontrunner is Regan Smith. Currently driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide Series team where he's second in points, Smith has proven capable of being competitive at the Cup level with a victory in the 2011 Southern 500. And last year when Earnhardt was sidelined two races due to a concussion, Smith filled in admirably, running in the top 10 at Charlotte before an engine failure and notching a seventh-place finish at Kansas.

Also helping Smith's cause is his familiarity driving Hendrick Motorsports equipment, which supplies chassis and engines to SHR. By tabbing Smith, it would give SHR a sense of stability it might not have with a different driver.

But if the organization decides to look elsewhere for a fill-in, there is no shortage of options.

If the team wanted to select a younger driver, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson would be natural fits. Both may be under contracts to other organizations, but because Richard Childress Racing (Dillon) and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (Larson) are Chevrolet-backed teams, this hurdle isn't insurmountable.

Dillon, the current Nationwide points leader, has more experience in a Cup car, having made seven starts this season for a variety for teams with a best result of 11th. He also has an existing relationship with one of Stewart's primary sponsors, Bass Pro Shops, which could prove to be pivotal if the company wanted to maintain some sort of brand identity.

Unlike Dillon, Larson has yet to compete in NASCAR's top division. But the 21-year-old is heralded as the sport's next great driver and is often compared to Stewart due to his open-wheel background and ability to get up to speed quickly no matter the discipline.

The only drawback with Larson is he's still in his first season in Nationwide. Accordingly, there would be a definite learning curve involved, and SHR is going to want a driver who can be competitive from the get-go.

"This is a big deal," Zipadelli said. "It's going to take everybody as a team working together, and we'll get through it and hopefully do a good job and hopefully (our sponsors will) all be proud of how Stewart-Haas deals with everything. Most importantly, obviously, it's about performance and giving their brand the recognition it deserves."

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Tony Stewart breaks leg in sprint car crash

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