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Stewart-Haas Racing moves forward without its leader

Friday, Aug. 09, 2013

NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing began the unwelcomed position Friday of moving on without Tony Stewart for the foreseeable future.

Stewart remains hospitalized in North Carolina recovering from two surgeries on a pair of broken bones in his right leg. He remains sidelined indefinitely this season with the injuries sustained in a wreck Monday night in a Sprint car race at a dirt track in Iowa.

While rain delayed the start of track activity Friday at Watkins Glen International, Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet team finally got some practice time with interim driver Max Papis late in the afternoon.

Papis is hoping to provide the organization a good finish and a much-needed emotional boost.

“I believe that the joy that I bring in my heart and the joy that I have for the sport hopefully is going to bring up the morale of everyone in the organization, and obviously if we add this to a good result, it would be even better,” said Papis, who has driven in numerous motorsports series, including NASCAR, IndyCar and sports cars.

“Obviously, I’m not going to go out there to run 20th or 25th. I’m going to go out there to make everyone proud and do the best job I can, and I know that my best job is pretty good.

“I have confidence in what I can do, and I have confidence, as well, that my personality and my spirit are something good for this team.”

The team has yet to announce a driver lineup beyond Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. Qualifying for the race is 11:40 a.m. Saturday.

The last time Stewart, 42, suffered a serious injury which affected his ride in NASCAR was 2006, when a broken right shoulder blade required him to the use a relief driver in one race.

At that time, Stewart was a driver at Joe Gibbs Racing and Greg Zipadelli was his crew chief.

This time the roles – and responsibilities – have changed for both. Stewart is a team co-owner as well as driver at SHR and Zipadelli is now the organization’s competition director.

“I always that I was paid to be selfish for the No. 20 car for all those years (at JGR) and just do whatever I felt was best for that group. Now it’s different,” Zipadelli said. “It’s three teams, from the sponsors from the people at the shop to everybody involved.

“There are different roles and responsibilities but at the end of the day it’s still to do your best job and do what you can to get through the situation as best as we can.

“You can’t lose focus on the other two teams. There is still responsibility there.”

While Papis worked to get the No. 14 to his liking Friday he also had a short learning curve to adjust to working with Stewart’s crew chief, Steve Addington, and spotter Bob Jeffrey.

Papis was 27th-fastest in Friday’s first practice session and 30th-fastest in the second session.

Stewart’s absence from a NASCAR race weekend for the first time in 1999 did not go unnoticed by his fellow competitors.

“It’s a big loss for our sport and certainly I know that Tony is feeling bad about being injured and the affect that it has on his Cup team,” said five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “It’s crazy to think that he won’t be a player in the Chase.

“It’s not something that I would have ever thought as the year got started.”

Danica Patrick, Stewart’s teammate at SHR, visited Stewart in the hospital.

“He’s in typical Tony spirits. He’s hassling the nurses and everything you could imagine Tony is (doing),” she said. “He has pretty good spirits.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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