Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - After being sidelined for more than six months due to a leg injury, Tony Stewart's long-awaited return to racing occurred on Friday when he ran a total of 50 laps during practice at Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup Series champion, missed the final 15 races of the 2013 season after he broke his right tibia and fibula during an accident in a sprint car race on Aug. 5 in Iowa. His injury required three surgeries, including one where a metal rod was inserted inside his fractured tibia.
Completing 24 laps around this 2.5-mile superspeedway during the first practice session and then 26 laps during the final session, Stewart did not experience any discomfort while he was in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. His fastest lap was clocked at 197.944 mph.
"The great thing is there is zero percentage of pain in the car," Stewart said. "I thought we would have some kind of ache, pain of some kind that would bother us. It was like putting on an old pair of shoes again."
Stewart was so eager to get on the track that he hopped into his car almost 20 minutes before the start of practice for Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited preseason race.
"I didn't want to wait anymore," he said. "We just wanted to give ourselves a couple of minutes so we weren't thrashing at the last second if there was something we needed to move."
Stewart noted that he had no trouble getting in or out of his car. He has not fully recovered from his injury.
"Piece of cake. I didn't fall," Stewart said. "I think that was what everybody was waiting for. If there was ever a time to not screw up it is getting in the car this time. About 400 cameras there so I didn't want to be the guy that fell out of the car and got on the cover of the paper for that."
Stewart is one of 18 drivers competing in The Sprint Unlimited. Denny Hamlin posted the fastest overall speed in practice with a lap at 199.867 mph.