While he may be one of their toughest rivals on a racetrack, several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are happy to see Tony Stewart back in a car this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion will make his first start of the season in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400. He missed the season’s first eight races while recovering from a Jan. 31 accident in an ATV.
“I came to Stewart-Haas Racing to race with Tony. To see where he was from a personal standpoint over the time from when he got hurt and everything that happened, and see his interaction from the owner’s standpoint over the last several weeks has been very interesting to me, just to see how engaged he was and how excited he was and how relaxed and into what was going on.
“You add all that enthusiasm and engagement that he’s had with us at the racetrack and now you put him back in the car, and you can see that excitement to another level.
“It’s big to have him back in the car. We’re all excited as a sport and as his teammates to have him back in the car is always a good thing; and have that consistency moving forward with just one driver.
“Mike (Bugarewicz, crew chief) has done a great job and the team has done a great job and the organization has done a great job in supporting him, but to have that consistency is going to be big for everybody.”
“It’s great to have our team owner and our lead driver back in the car. It’s great to see him recover as quickly as he did, to push through the rehab side of it to get back to the car. This is his retirement year. He is supposed to enjoy it. He wants to go out there and do well.
“I think Richmond is a perfect track for the body to come back to a race, because of the lower demands physically on the body because there is not a lot of banking here. There is not a lot of G-Force and you have to get up on the wheel and turn the wheel, but he will be able to settle in.
“He has had good history here at Richmond. He has had multiple wins, and it’s just nice to see him jump back in the car so soon. We just want him back in the car to work the bugs out of it to be as competitive as soon as possible.”
“We are glad to have him back. The 14 number has been out there every week, but Tony hasn’t been in it, so it is nice to have Tony back out in his final year. I can imagine he wants to go out on a good note, and it is nice to have him back in the car and be in that position where he loves to be and try to end his career on a high note.”
“Any time you welcome back a three-time champion, regardless of what his name is, is a big deal for our sport. I am glad to have him back, and I think it is a big deal for our fans as well.”
“It’s good. This is a retirement season for him and it was a little bit delayed, but he’s now going to be going to some of these race tracks for the final time, and I know just in general Tony has been around and traveling each week to the race tracks and been very hands-on with his race team.
“I know it’s all special memories for us to be able to go out there and compete with him. I know me coming into the Cup Series and being a teammate of his in my rookie season was awesome, but our relationship has grown so much further now that we’re not teammates. It’s a great season — would love to see him make a Chase push if he can and end on a good note.”
“From a competitor’s standpoint, Tony is one of the fiercest competitors in the sport, so to have him there and have someone to battle against is fun. I’ve really enjoyed racing Tony, and it’s good to see him back in a car. I think he adds a lot and definitely makes it fun out on the racetrack.”