After a lengthy six-month absence, Tony Stewart returns to the track Friday in preparation for the following day's preseason Sprint Unlimited.
It will mark the first time Stewart has turned a lap in competition since he broke his right leg in two places on Aug. 5. In the days and months that followed, the three-time Cup champion has undergone three surgeries, had a titanium rod inserted in his leg to give him increased strength, and undergone extensive rehabilitation on the injury that sidelined him for the final 15 races of 2013.
"I'm excited about it," Stewart said during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. "It's been a long time since Aug. 5. Normally we're talking about the offseason. It just seems like it flies by. It's been the slowest offseason I've ever had. I'm ready to get doing something again."
Stewart estimates his leg is only 65 percent healed -- it will take another year before he's completely recovered. Still, in the clearest sign yet that he is indeed back and confident in his health, Stewart says he will not have a driver on standby in case relief is needed.
"We're not going to need a backup driver," he said. "I feel good enough, I'm confident we're not going to have to worry about anything."
In part because of his determination and in part because of his physical being, Stewart is adamant that he's just fine to complete the duration of Speedweeks, which concludes with the Feb. 23 running of the Daytona 500. That resolve was witnessed firsthand by Kevin Harvick as the two returned from a recent sponsor appearance.
"We got on that plane Monday and he was like a crazed lunatic," Harvick said. "You could see that look in his eyes. He looked at me and said, ‘I'm ready to (expletive) race.' I always knew he was a very intense person, but man that was cool."
Because it's a non-points race and only 75 laps in length, Saturday's Sprint Unlimited will offer Stewart a better appraisal of his condition.
"If it's something in the seat or something else that's going to be a problem, it will probably show up Saturday night," Stewart said. "The good thing is that gives us a week to get things sorted out. If there's something we need to change that we don't learn in practice with a problem, this is probably the best-case scenario of what you have as far as a schedule for the week.
"I think Saturday night we'll have a lot better answers than what we have right now obviously. But I really think because of all the running we'll get a chance to do, we have plenty of opportunity and make adjustments if we need to."