CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart heads into the busiest week of his year riding high from a win in his return to sprint car racing.
Stewart raced in a sprint car last weekend for the first time since he broke his leg in an extracurricular race last August. He missed the final 15 weeks of the NASCAR season with the injury.
He vowed he would continue to live his life, and made good on that promise in Michigan, where on Friday night he climbed into a car at Tri-City Motor Speedway and won. He also raced Saturday night at Crystal Motor Speedway, where he finished third.
"It felt great," said Stewart, who picked a pair of low-profile races to make his return instead of joining the World of Outlaws, home to the top sprint car drivers.
"The Outlaw series was in Pennsylvania, so that's probably the toughest place in the country to try to go back. It's probably the toughest race to go to, period," Stewart said. "I didn't feel like that was probably the best place to try to go back for the first time. But it was neat to get back in the car, finally, in a scenario that was low pressure."
So what's next? More racing, but Stewart said his schedule will be lighter than he hoped.
The three-time NASCAR champion discussed extracurricular racing with his management team and Stewart-Haas Racing competition Greg Zipadelli and mapped out a schedule that Stewart will follow. They decided on tracks with slower speeds out of safety concerns.
"There are some races that I really have my heart set on running," he said. "I'm trying to be smart about where we're going."
On Monday, Stewart was headed to Eldora Speedway, the dirt track he owns in Rossburg, Ohio. He'll be hands-on the next two days as his staff prepares to host NASCAR's Truck Series race on Wednesday for the second consecutive year.
"It's about as close to being a proud father as I can imagine being," he said. "Anybody that thinks that putting on a single NASCAR event is easy ... People think you start working I think a week ahead of time to get ready for stuff like this, and it's been a very large, eye-opening experience for me. It takes months and months of work, and so many details."
When the checkered flag falls on the trucks, Stewart will shift to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to prepare for Sunday's Sprint Cup race. The two-time Brickyard winner returns to his home track winless on the season and 19th in the standings, but hopeful he can get a breakthrough victory on the hallowed Indianapolis grounds.
It doesn't hurt, Stewart believes, that he won in his sprint car last weekend.
"Everybody loves good juju," he laughed. "It was more than just a good way to start the week. It was a confidence boost for me. When you haven't won, and you haven't been necessarily a contender to be in the top two or three each week and having those opportunities to win races, you start questioning what is it in the equation that you're missing. To be able to go out and win on Friday night and run third on Saturday night, and to have two good runs like that in a car that I haven't been in for almost a full year now, that was a huge confidence boost and made me feel like, hey, maybe we'll just find something else."