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The press conference covered everything from the familiar questions about whether his ambitious racing schedule is irresponsible to Gene Haas’ handling of adding Kurt Busch to the team to the more obvious questions about his health and expected return to NASCAR.
Although Stewart is expected to return to the sport in time for the season opener at Daytona, this extended time out of the car seems to have made him more resolute about who he is. Make no mistake, he is a racecar driver who fully intends to squeeze every bit of life out of every day.
“You can't spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion you've wasted your time. We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture, and I'm somebody that wants to live life. I'm not somebody that wants to sit there and say, I've got to guard against this and I've got to worry about that," Stewart said.
“If I got in a race car and didn't wear a helmet and didn't wear seatbelts, then that would be dangerous, and that's being foolish. We don't do that. But I'm going to go live my life. I'm going to take full advantage of whatever time I've got on this earth. I'm going to ride it out to the fullest and I'm going to get my money's worth; you can bet your butt on that."
Stewart’s upbeat attitude was refreshing, but the glimpses into the maturity of his co-owner/business side were equally surprising. Was there really that much drama about adding Kurt Busch as the fourth car for Stewart-Haas Racing? No. Stewart was being a “grown up,” as he said, concerned only about the timing.
“Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday I was told that they had a contract ready. The biggest thing was having Greg Zipadelli sit there and say 'we can do this and we can get it done in a time frame.' That was my concern.
“In all honesty, you think about what role he's (Gene Haas) played in this company. Ever since I've been a part of Stewart-Haas with him, every year he's become more engaged than the year before, and for him to go out and take an opportunity like this to go find somebody like Kurt and do it in a time frame and make this happen in such a short amount of time has really been encouraging to me as his partner in this deal."
Stewart’s time out of the car has done nothing to temper his snarkiness. When asked what he has learned from this experience he answered with his familiar sarcastic humor.
“I don't know that I learned much about myself. I pretty much knew already that I could sleep 20 hours out of a 24-hour day going into this. But I've learned a lot about the team. For one thing, when I heal, Greg Zipadelli is going to be the first one to try to kill me, but I've never been more proud of him and everyone here at Stewart-Haas.”
“#SmokeWillRise” has become the rallying cry for Tony Stewart fans. No doubt he will rise, but what will be interesting is whether the Tony Stewart who emerges in 2014 will be a renewed, more insightful driver/owner than when he left.