With the competitive fate of Tony Stewart still unknown, it would be inappropriate to speculate about the severity of his injuries, but it can’t be good based on the outpouring of support from the NASCAR community following the announcement of his incident on Tuesday afternoon.
After all, the official Tony Stewart Facebook page has already updated itself with the #SmokeWillRise branding, which was last used in 2013 when the driver broke bones in his lower right leg during a Sprint Car event at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
In short, this hashtag has a notoriously foreboding precedent.
While it hasn’t been made clear whether or not Smoke will have to miss any part of the season during his final Sprint Cup campaign, it certainly seems like a possibility. That alone is unfortunate because Stewart had already missed 18 events over the past three seasons due to injury and the legal ramifications of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy back in 2014.
Further complicating matters is that the pool of available substitutes isn’t particularly deep right now, especially if Stewart Haas Racing wanted to place a veteran into the role.
At first glance, it would seem to make sense to go ahead and place Clint Bowyer into the No. 14 a year early just to get him acclimated with the team, but he and 5-Hour Energy seem totally committed to HScott Motorsports from both a competition and sponsor activation standpoint. It would take a lot of wrangling to move him over to SHR, especially if it’s for only a portion of the season.
So who does that leave from a veteran standpoint? A quick head-count includes David Gilliland, Josh Wise, Justin Allgaier, Brian Vickers, JJ Yeley and maybe JR Motorsports XFINITY Series part-timer Alex Bowman as a stretch.
Vickers has health issues of his own while Gilliland, Wise and Bowman fail to provide the marketing punch that Mobil1, Bass Pro Shops and Rush Trucks Centers will likely demand.
The most logical option might lie in Ty Dillon, who was scheduled to drive the Daytona 500 and eight other events for Circle Sport – Leavine Family Racing. Recall that brother Austin, himself, drove the No. 14 at Michigan and Talladega in 2013 when Stewart was sidelined from his Southern Iowa crash referenced above.
The reasons Austin fit with the team in 2013 are the same reasons Ty currently makes a lot of sense should Stewart need time to heal. Dillon needs Sprint Cup experience before presumably going full-time in 2017. He’s a Chevrolet lifer as the grandson of Richard Childress and his family has a long-standing personal and professional relationship with Bass Pro.
So while everyone is hoping for the best for the three-time Sprint Cup champion, his team may have a tough decision looming on the horizon.
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