Tony Stewart’s crash in a sprint car race stirred an old debate in the NASCAR garage area: Should drivers risk their careers and hurt their teams while moonlighting in other racing series?
Most car owners don’t think so.
Most drivers need permission from their car owners and their sponsors to drive at anything other than a NASCAR-sanctioned event. For the most part, that limits a driver’s extracurricular activities.
Stewart was involved in three different sprint car crashes within a month. The last one came in Iowa on Aug. 5 and it left Stewart with a broken tibia and fibula that required two different surgeries.
Stewart was forced to miss last week’s race at Watkins Glen, N.Y. His Stewart-Haas Racing team announced Monday Austin Dillon will drive his No. 14 Chevrolet at this Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.
Greg Zipadelli, the competition director at Stewart-Haas, said Stewart feels like he let his team down.
“You have an opportunity to evaluate after you go through a situation like this and I’ll be interested, like all, to see what Tony’s sponsors say and then clearly, Gene Haas’s opinion on it all,” Jimmie Johnson said. “But again, they knew the risks going into it on the front side.”
Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress don’t allow their drivers to compete in sprint car races.
Stewart’s accident might force some owners to reconsider what they allow their drivers to do away from NASCAR.
This changes the whole thing, I think it changes it for Tony,” Stewart’s partner, Gene Haas told the Sporting News. “We want to win championships. That’s what we’re here for.
“If something gets in the way of that, I think we’ve got to reevaluate that. But I’m not going to sit there and tell Tony what to do. Hopefully we will all come to an agreement what’s best for the team and that’s what we’ll do.”
Johnson doesn’t know if he’s restricted from racing in anything other than his No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Then again, he’s never thought about doing anything different.
“You know, every driver has an approval process that he has to go to, to compete in any other form of racing,” he said.
“Our Cup contract supersedes anything else that’s out there. And you need to have approval and everybody sign off before you enter another event.”
Kurt Busch still hopes to drive in the IndyCar Series season finale Oct. 19 at Fontana, Calif. But after seeing what happened to Stewart, he will take a more-careful approach.
“It’s making me think about how I can pattern and channel more things to look at and more things to put my mind at ease and to be better prepared for when I go and if I go,” he said.
Busch, who also has competed in the NHRA drag races, said drivers must consider the ramifications of their actions.
“You’re 100 percent responsible if something does go wrong,” Busch said. “Now Tony doesn’t have many people to answer to, being that he’s the owner of the Sprint Cup car. It’s a risk that you take. It’s the fulfillment of life that you’re trying to enjoy.
“At the end of the day, who are we to judge what Tony is enjoying for life versus what he should be doing? It’s the battle I’ve been going through the last two or three years as well.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. dabbled with sports car racing until he had a fiery crash at Sonoma, Calif., in 2004. He suffered burns on his face and legs. Now he restricts his driving to Hendrick’s No. 88 Chevrolet and a handful of Nationwide Series races.
Earnhardt admitted his sports car crash made him reconsider his priorities.
“Well it had an effect on me, everybody’s different,” he said. “Everybody’s opinion is going to be different as far as being a driver, and certainly the injury and style of injury that you have could make a difference as well.”