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Stewart says recovery taking longer than expected

By By Seth Livingstone, NASCAR Wire Service
Published On: May 30 2014 02:55:44 PM CDT
Updated On: May 30 2014 05:12:08 PM CDT
Tony Stewart 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup

Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

DOVER, Del. -

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

Approaching the one-year anniversary of his last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Tony Stewart never dreamed the comeback trail would be this long or this arduous.

"I honestly thought I would be done with this by now as far as rehab, pain, all that stuff," said Stewart, whose driving career was interrupted by a severely broken right leg suffered in a sprint car accident last August at Southern Iowa Speedway.

"I thought we would be healed 100 percent by now. I hate (the rehab). You sweat. You get out of breath. It is crazy. Then you feel sore. I don't know anything about this that its good, but I know, at the end of the day, it's going to make me feel a lot better."

For now, the doctor appointments and therapy sessions continue as does the quest for success. Stewart last wheeled a Sprint Cup car to victory lane in the FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway last June 2. That's a span of 35 races, 15 of which Stewart missed at the end of 2013.

Much has happened since. Notably, Stewart-Haas Racing team has added Kevin Harvick (one of two drivers with multiple Sprint Cup victories this season) and former Cup champion Kurt Busch, a potential Chase contender thanks to his win at Martinsville.

Stewart took a major step on a personal level when he got back behind the wheel of a dirt car for testing purposes this week. He's also become more engaged in social media through Twitter.

"I think I'm having as much fun reading what (followers) are writing as they are reading what I'm putting out there," Stewart said. "I realize what I've been missing."

Of course, what Stewart is missing most is that first Sprint Cup victory of 2014. He's won at least one Cup race each of the last 15 seasons. In 2014, he hasn't come closer than a fourth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. In fact, he's only led one lap -- April 7 at Texas, where he sat on the pole.

"We've luckily been able to win one race a season my entire Cup career, so I don't think there's ever a point where you get panicked," Stewart said, after turning in the second-fastest lap in Friday practice. "You don't have to be stellar in the points (to make the Chase). You've just got to get a win (and) our track record shows that we can get it. It's just a matter of when.

"Especially with the new rules package, I don't think anybody's in panic mode. Everybody's still learning these cars, going to tracks for the first time this season. Six or eight weeks before Richmond (the season's 26th race on Sept. 6), then you start panicking if you don't have that win. But I think it's still a little too early, at least for us."

Dover has been no panacea for Stewart. Prior to last year's victory, he had finished no better than 20th in any of his five previous starts. His only other wins at the Monster Mile came in 2000 when he swept a pair of races for Joe Gibbs Racing.

GORDON 'BACK' ON TRACK

Jeff Gordon says his aching back is "close to normal" as he prepares for Sunday's 400 miler at Dover International Speedway.

The Sprint Cup Series points leader said that stepping away from his car after running only 11 practice laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday was "one of the hardest things I've ever done in my racing career. But my body was telling me it was the right thing to do."

Gordon said he was sore on Monday and Tuesday after finishing seventh in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race. But he is no longer experiencing the knifing pains he did a week ago and doesn't expect a problem this weekend, even though Dover is regarded as one of the more physically demanding tracks for a driver.

He also said that given his age (42) and his recent back issues, it's no surprise that inquiring minds are asking him about the "R" word -- as in "retirement."

"Feel free to ask me all the questions you want about retirement," Gordon told the assembled media in the Dover media center on Friday. "I don't have an answer for you. When the time comes, it comes."

Gordon, who has a victory and nine top-10 finishes this season, was in contention until shortly after the final restart at Charlotte. The four-time Cup champion said last week's trials and tribulations were nothing but a positive for his race team.

"I think it just gave us more momentum, with what we went through, to have that kind of race."

LOGANO'S TWIN TALES AT DOVER

Joey Logano has Dover figured out -- at least in a NASCAR Nationwide Series car.

Logano has won four consecutive Nationwide races at the Monster Mile and done so in dominating fashion. He won last September's race by more than 14.5 seconds. But his Dover career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been a different story.

While he has led 510 laps in his last four Nationwide races at DIS, he has led only one lap in 10 Sprint Cup starts. His best Cup finishes at Dover are a pair of thirds, one of them last September.

"It is one of my favorite race tracks because of our (Nationwide) success here," said Logano, whose four wins at Dover are the most by a driver in the series. "To be in that group of guys that have won five races in a row at a track -- with Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Busch and Jack Ingram -- it would be an honor."

One of only two drivers with two Sprint Cup victories this season (Harvick is the other), Logano's Penske Racing team can afford to experiment a bit at Dover this week. Figuring out the best way to get their Ford Fusion around the track is important, because Dover hosts the third race of the Chase on Sept. 28.

"Dover is a unique race track, and what you find here that works might not work anywhere else," Logano said. "But if you find a setup here (that works), it usually lasts a while. You can fine-tune that or at least (use) that as a direction when you come back."