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Tony Stewart has too much to lose to be racing sprint cars

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While Tony Stewart’s love of sprint car racing is commendable, the reward simply doesn’t outweigh the risks. That's why he should have curtailed this activity long before Monday’s crash left him with a broken leg.

Ezra Shaw

Tony Stewart is more than just a NASCAR driver -- at his core, he is a racer through and through.

He is someone who if he has a free moment, will find a dirt track somewhere, anywhere to compete in a sprint car race. It's that passion that sees Stewart run upwards of roughly 100 races a year with more than half of these races being non-sanctioned NASCAR events.

In many ways Stewart is a throwback to an era that would see the sport's top drivers run NASCAR races on the weekend and then barnstorm to small local tracks during the week to satisfy a desire that burned deep.

This is who Stewart is and this is something to respect.

It is one of the reasons he chose to leave Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 to form his own Sprint Cup team. At JGR, team owner Joe Gibbs frowned on Stewart's extracurricular activities and feared the ramifications if something were to happen to him.

After all, there were sponsorship deals to protect and Cup titles to pursue.

But as his own boss Stewart is free to race anywhere, anytime, in any kind of car he deems acceptable. He often doesn't inform the media where he'll race next and sometimes will use a pseudonym so as not to draw unwanted attention to his exploits.

Again, this is all admirable.

But it's also unnecessary and, even more so, unwise.

Stewart isn't just a driver. He is the face of Stewart-Haas Racing, the very foundation which the organization was built upon. High dollar sponsors sign with SHR solely because of Stewart's name and ability.

More so, before Monday's accident he was also a championship contender. With five races to go before the Chase, Stewart held the No. 1 wild card slot and a recent surge in performance seemed to indicate that he would challenge for his fourth series title.

Although he believes it not to be true, whenever Stewart drives a sprint car he jeopardizes his vast empire.

Motorsports is inherently hazardous and as we have seen injuries happen on any level no matter the safety measures in place. This year Denny Hamlin broke his back when his Toyota slammed head-on into a wall in a March Cup race. Michael Annett broke his sternum in the season-opening Nationwide race at Daytona.

But sprint car racing is a discipline with even more risk involved. Many of the small tracks Stewart frequently competes at don't have SAFER barriers or on-site medical facilities. The cars themselves are still fairly archaic and there is no universal, across the board safety guidelines. Instead, a hodgepodge of different organizations oversees the sport.

This summer alone has presented constant reminders of just how dangerous sprint car racing can be.

Former NASCAR driver Jason Leffler, a close friend of Stewart's, was killed in June. Two weeks before Leffler's death another driver died after a crash at an Indiana track. And on Sunday, Sprint Car Hall of Famer Kramer Williamson succumbed to injuries sustained from a wreck.

And if Stewart needed further reminders of why he should curtail racing sprint cars, he himself has been involved in two other high-profile incidents within the past three weeks.

Stewart started a multi-car wreck June 16 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park that saw a 19-year-old driver fracture her back. And last week, a day after finishing fourth in the Brickyard 400, he was in Ontario when his sprint car jumped sideways, flipping five times. He would walk away uninjured from both wrecks.

He would later say going end-over-end was "no big deal" and called the talk that it was in his best interests to stop racing sprint cars "annoying."

With a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg and his championship aspirations shattered as well, you wonder if Stewart thinks differently this morning as he wakes up in an Iowa hospital.

All that remains to be seen is whether Stewart heeds anything from this unfortunate incident. Regardless, Monday's crash was a painful lesson that could have been prevented.

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