Sitting before a backdrop with the words "Smoke Will Rise," Tony Stewart met with the media Tuesday for the first time since breaking his right leg in a sprint car crash Aug. 5.
During the 82-minute press conference at Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart was forthright about the accident that ended his season and the painstaking recovery from what he calls "the worst of his career."
Feeling better every day, doctors think Stewart will be cleared to return to competition no later than early February. (The 2014 season begins with the Daytona 500 Feb. 23.)
When the accident first occurred Stewart didn't know he was hurt, but as he began unbuckling his helmet he felt that his right leg was numb. He then looked down and saw the severity of the injury.
"I knew at that point that it was fairly serious," Stewart said. "Then when I went through the first surgery and after they kind of showed me X-rays and what had happened and what they had to do to fix it ... at that point I knew we were going to be out."
Stewart has since undergone two surgeries with no additional operations planned. He has been told that his recovery should be 100 percent and is expected to begin rehabilitation therapy shortly.
Any notion that he would stop racing sprint cars due to the risks involved was dismissed by Stewart. He cited Bobby Labonte breaking three ribs in a bicycle accident last week as an example that you're not immune from getting hurt just doing regular day-to-day activities.
"The thing is you've got to live life," Stewart said. "You can't spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion you've wasted your time. We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture, and I'm somebody that wants to live life.
"If I got in a race car and didn't wear a helmet and didn't wear seatbelts, then that would be dangerous and that's being foolish. We don't do that. ... I'm going to take full advantage of whatever time I've got on this Earth. I'm going to ride it out to the fullest and I'm going to get my money's worth; you can bet your butt on that."
Stewart, who was scheduled to run upwards of 70 sprint car races this season, did concede he will cut back his extracurricular racing activities going forward. The reason cited was fatigue, which he said he was experiencing in the weeks leading up to the crash that broke his leg.
"This year was the most aggressive schedule that we had planned," he said. "And even if I was 100 percent healthy, I wouldn't plan on racing 70 races again next year. I think I was a little aggressive on my schedule as far as how many dates I wanted to run.
"I am going to get back in a car eventually. There's no time frame on when I'm going to get back in one, but I'm definitely going to cut back the amount of races."
The co-owner of SHR was also candid about the news last week that the team had signed Kurt Busch and would be expanding to four cars beginning next season. Stewart disputed the impression that he was against the move and that Gene Haas pursued Busch without his knowledge or approval.
Stewart was adamant that his only hesitation about adding a fourth car was whether SHR had the resources and infrastructure in place to incorporate another team. But after conferring with competition director Greg Zipadelli, the three-time NASCAR champion was in favor of signing Busch, who Stewart believes will be a "huge asset" to SHR.
As for any possible rift between himself and Haas, Stewart was clear that the two are on the same page. He explained Haas felt compelled to bring Busch into the fold, and because Haas "holds the checkbook," it was his right to do so.
"We're partners in this, and Gene wanted to make a change, and I've got to go with that," Stewart said. "It was his choice to add Kurt to the organization, not me. I really truly was 100 percent behind it; I was just concerned about the time frame.
"The rest of it about everybody's perception that we're fighting and arguing, there was never one argument between us. I just expressed my concern about the timing of it. It was literally trying to figure out the facts of can we feasibly do this in the time frame that we have and can we do it to the level that we want to accomplish in that short amount of time."
And what does Stewart miss the most about not being at the track?
"The hot girls, there's no doubt," he said. "When you're laying in bed there's not much traffic going through my room."
More from SB Nation: