DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart is confident he will be ready to race at full speed when the NASCAR season opens in February.
The three-time NASCAR champion has only been in a race car once, for a seat fitting, since breaking his right leg Aug. 5 in a sprint car accident. The broken tibia and fibula caused Stewart to miss the final 15 races of last season, and doctors won’t clear him to race until Feb. 14, the day before the exhibition Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
The season-opening Daytona 500 is Feb. 23, just 10 days after Stewart will be cleared to get back in the car.
That’s plenty of time, he said.
“Physically, I’m not going to feel 100 percent,” Stewart said Thursday. “But I’ll be able to do my job 100 percent, so that’s the main thing.”
Stewart was at Daytona for the first day of preseason testing to support Stewart-Haas Racing, the team he co-owns with Gene Haas. Mark Martin was scheduled to drive Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, but rain washed out all of Thursday’s on-track activity.
LETARTE JOINS NBC SPORTS: NBC Sports Group will formally introduce Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Steve Letarte today as the final member of its broadcast team.
Letarte is under contract to Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 88 team through the 2014 season.
He will become an analyst for NBC Sports beginning in 2015 when the network begins coverage. Jeff Burton has already been named analyst and Rick Allen is lead announcer.
NAME CHANGES: Two prominent teams changed their names Thursday.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing now will be called Chip Ganassi Racing, while Penske Racing has moved all of their racing programs, including its Indy Car teams, under the Team Penske banner.
The change at Ganassi means Teresa Earnhardt, the widow of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, no longer has a stake in the team.
NEW MANAGING DIRECTOR: It took three years, but NASCAR finally found a replacement for John Darby, the managing director of the Sprint Cup Series.
Richard Buck will move into his new role after the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona later this month.
Buck replaces Darby, who announced three years ago his plan to focus more on working at NASCAR Research and Development center in Concord, N.C.
He will be the point man to implement and enforce rules for the Sprint Cup Series.
Buck worked from 1980-2000 as a crew chief, team manager and director of operations with open-wheel racing teams. As a crew chief, he is a multiple-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.