TALLADEGA, Ala. — For however tempting it might be, Tony Stewart won’t drive all 500 miles today at Talladega Superspeedway and don’t expect him to race at the front.
He’ll get out the car at the first caution — whenever that is — and let Ty Dillon finish the race in the No. 14 car.
Stewart will not race the full distance to avoid re-injuring his back, which forced him to miss the first eight Sprint Cup races of the season. Stewart suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an incident in the California sand dunes on Jan. 31. He returned last weekend at Richmond International Raceway, finishing 19th, but will give way to Dillon as soon as he can today.
“That’s meeting the surgeons halfway in saying they didn’t want us to run this race,’’ Stewart said. “We need the points and so we talked them into letting us at least start the race. I told them it normally doesn’t go more than two or three laps at the beginning of the race before a caution. It might go 82 or 83 laps, who knows? But, we’ll run until it gets there.’’
In the last five spring races at Talladega, the first caution flag waved, on average, at Lap 21.
Only twice in the last 10 Talladega races has the caution flag not come out before Lap 30. It waved at Lap 133 in last fall’s race and at Lap 61 in the 2014 October race.
Stewart will start at the rear because Dillon qualified the car. That means Stewart won’t have to get out of the way of the field at the start if he qualified toward the front. He can ride at the back as he often has done early in restrictor-plate races in his career and wait for his chance to give the ride to Dillon.
“Hopefully it will happen sooner than later,’’ Stewart said of an early caution. “That way (Dillon) can get into the flow of the race earlier than later and he’ll be fine.’’