DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - After 18 months of physical and mental anguish, three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart says he’s ready to begin a charge for a fourth title at the season-opening Daytona 500.
“As soon as the calendar flipped over to 2015 I put the rest of it behind me and I’m not looking back,” Stewart, one of the biggest names in motor racing, told reporters.
Stewart’s struggles are the stuff of Shakespearean drama.
He suffered a badly-broken leg in 2013 that required five corrective surgeries and forced him to miss 15 races.
But Stewart’s physical pain pales in comparison to the mental anguish following an accident last August in which he struck and killed a 20-year-old driver during a dirt-track race in upstate New York.
Stewart was not charged with any crime in the fatal incident but parked himself for three races while emotionally digesting consequences of that incident.
He was winless for the first time in 16-season career.
“I’m coming off of a bad year and a half, so definitely excited to get it all behind us and move forward,” Stewart said ahead of Sunday’s Daytona 500.
The 43-year-old Indiana native is a throwback to his hero, four-times Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt. His car is even emblazoned with the No. 14, an homage to Foyt. And he’s been victorious in virtually every type of car he’s raced.
Since 2009, he’s been a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which beat NASCAR’s most successful team, Hendrick Motorsports, for the 2014 NASCAR premier series championship with their driver Kevin Harvick and equipment purchased from their rival.
Added to the normal challenges of running the organization is the distraction of a claim of domestic abuse by the former girlfriend of another team driver, Kurt Busch, and the last-minute suspension of the 2004 NASCAR champion.
Stewart shrugs these issues off.
“I’ve been racing 37 years, and every year hasn’t always been smooth,” Stewart told reporters in Daytona Beach.
“There’s always seasons that there’s been bumps in the road, and you just look forward to winning your next race and trying to win your next championship.”
Editing by Frank Pingue and Larry Fine