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Tony Stewart receives surprise honor, excited to return for Daytona 500

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Still recovering from a broken leg, a confident Tony Stewart says he will be ready to return for the start of the 2014 season.

Jared C. Tilton

For his contributions as a NASCAR driver, team owner and track operator, Tony Stewart received the Myers Brothers Award Thursday for contributions to the sport.

That he was named the recipient of the prestigious award stunned Stewart, who was only at the ceremony because Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Matt Borland was receiving an honor. Stewart was tabbed as the winner for his efforts as the owner of Eldora Speedway, which in July hosted the first NASCAR national series race on dirt in 43 years and was widely popular among fans and competitors alike.

"My leg needs a couple more weeks, but I'm ready."-Tony Stewart

But while he may have been surprised to hear his name called, it was typical Stewart once he took the stage to accept his award. The three-time Cup champion needled Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, saying they again backed into another title.

Having missed the final 15 races of the year after sustaining a broken right leg in a sprint car crash on Aug. 5, Stewart also issued a warning.

"It was hard sitting on the sidelines watching," Stewart said. "But it gave me a different perspective that I haven't seen in years, of what we all do each weekend. It was a lot of fun to sit there on the side and watch you guys do what we do.

"But take this as your warning. I gave you [15] weeks off without me. I'll be ready for Daytona, and I'll be back to getting your asses again soon."

Stewart is still recovering from his injuries but is optimistic he will be able to return in time for the 2014 season-opening Daytona 500. Since the accident, he has lost 16 pounds.

"The first six days I didn't eat food, I ate ice," he said. "They couldn't bring ice fast enough. I've never seen anybody eat so much ice in my life. Food didn't taste good, didn't smell good. Ice, for some reason, was like ice cream."

Stewart is focusing on regaining his strength and stamina. The biggest challenge for him is regaining his balance, as he says his right thigh is noticeably smaller than his left.

"Balance is still probably the biggest key right now," Stewart said. . "... It's probably the weakest area that we've had in therapy that he's really focusing on now."

In Stewart's absence, Mark Martin was the primary fill-in and will continue to occupy the seat of the No. 14 throughout preseason testing. In all likelihood, the first laps Stewart makes when he does get the OK to return will be at Daytona in the days leading up to NASCAR's biggest race.

"My mind's ready to go race," Stewart said. "My leg needs a couple more weeks, but I'm ready. Especially the last couple of weeks, I feel like I've got my energy back. My appetite's back, so that's normally a good sign that you're getting back to normal."

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