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Austin Dillon to replace injured Tony Stewart at Michigan race

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Monday, Aug. 12, 2013

Next in the driver’s seat of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Chevy: Austin Dillon.

Dillon, NASCAR’s Nationwide Series leader, will substitute for injured Tony Stewart in this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It will be the second consecutive race SHR has needed a replacement for Stewart, who broke his leg Aug. 5 in a sprint-car crash at Southern Iowa Raceway. Max Papis drove for Stewart in Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and finished 15th.

Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director, said Monday afternoon that replacing Stewart likely will remain a week-to-week proposition and that no decision has been made on the following Sprint Cup race at Bristol, Tenn., on Aug. 24. It is not known how long Stewart will be out, or if he can return this season.

“It’s going to be a weekly occurrence for a little while,” Zipadelli said. “We’ll evaluate each race as it comes and do the best job we can with putting somebody in it we feel will do a good job.”

Zipadelli said Stewart has a doctor’s appointment Wednesday and that the team will know more about his immediate future next week. Stewart was released from the hospital Sunday after a second surgery on the broken tibia and fibula in his right leg.

Dillon’s challenge this week will be to race Saturday in a Nationwide event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the next day at Michigan. He will practice Thursday at Mid-Ohio and Friday at Michigan. One potential problem for Dillon: he might have to start from the rear of the field at Mid-Ohio if he can’t be there for Saturday morning qualifying that coincides with Cup practices at Michigan.

“We’re working that out right now,” said Dillon, who leads Sam Hornish Jr. by three points in the Nationwide standings. “The scheduling is pretty tough this weekend. We’ll be doing our best to give equal amounts of practice time.”

Dillon, 23, drives for Richard Childress Racing, which is a Cup rival of SHR. Zipadelli doesn’t think that’s a problem and actually could joke about it.

“We’re going to put a blindfold on him and right before he backs out of the garage, we’ll take it off,” Zipadelli said. But “it will be difficult at times. We’ve got to be guarded and the same with him. He’s got to come over here and trust that we can put something in the car that he can drive. Both sides will be respectful of each other.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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