Ryan: The saga of Tony Stewart still has some silver linings for Smoke

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – He’s been through the wringer of debilitating therapy, painful surgeries and  the unnerving vagaries of the legal system, but Tony Stewart isn’t interested in much sympathy.

“We’ve been through a lot worse than this,” Stewart, sporting a few massive and ugly scars on his fractured back, told concerned fans during a Periscope session Friday morning. “This is just another bump in the road.”

Another bump? Potholes the size of the Grand Canyon might be a better descriptor.

Since his ATV accident two weeks ago left him without a timetable for beginning his final season in NASCAR, the narrative has been, “Why can’t Smoke catch a break?” – a sentiment espoused by several of his peers.

There was the broken right leg in a devastating sprint car crash that cost him the final 15 races of the 2013 season.

There was the death of Kevin Ward Jr. that left Stewart burdened with grief and a wrongful death lawsuit.

And now, there’s the latest stroke of misfortune, scuttling the start of a deserved victory lap around NASCAR and a proper final start in the Daytona 500, which remains one of the few voids on his sterling resume.

But what if things had gone worse than the way they turned out for the three-time Sprint Cup champion?

What if Stewart had been hobbling around the Daytona International Speedway pits Saturday with one leg instead of two after that wreck in Oskaloosa, Iowa, left serious doubts about being ambulatory?

What if a grand jury in Ontario County had returned an indictment of criminal charges in September 2014 for his involvement in Ward’s death?

What if the burst fracture of his L1 vertebra had been a few centimeters in another direction and caused paralysis?

For as many times as Stewart seemingly has gotten the short end in a situation lately, you could find a few dozen more instances in which he has flirted with a precarious outcome and emerged relatively unscathed

What if the incident with a fan at the Chili Bowl had escalated into a much more unfavorable outcome?

What if the Australian track promoter whom he allegedly slugged aggressively had pursued retribution against Stewart, complicating his return from a trip Down Under five years ago?

Collectively, the NASCAR industry and its fans tend to look at Stewart’s tribulations and ask, “Why do these things keep happening?”

Just remember, though, the things that could have happened.

They wouldn’t have been bumps in the road.