Tony Stewart told anyone who would listen why he continued racing anywhere, anytime, regardless of purse or crowd or car.
Even after he flipped five times last week while driving a sprint car, Stewart offered a stout defense for his short-track weeknight racing as some questioned if he risked his championship chances in NASCAR.
Well, his title chances are over now.
The three-time Sprint Cup champ broke his right leg Monday night at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, a half-mile dirt track where he flipped his 360 winged sprint car while leading with five laps left in a 30-lap feature. He had surgery Tuesday on his upper and lower leg. Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR team he co-owns, said he'll need a second surgery.
He remained hospitalized and there was no timetable for his return. Road racing ace Max Papis will replace Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, where Stewart's streak of 521 consecutive Cup starts will end.
"Finally got reconnected to the world and just want to say thank you for all the prayers and well wishes," Stewart said Tuesday in a Facebook post.
Stewart, 42, has wrecked three times in the past month in extracurricular racing. But he has long refused to slow down his sprint car schedule.
One of the benefits of co-owning Stewart-Haas is that he has more freedom to race at smaller tracks in his spare time than he did at Joe Gibbs Racing. And his commitment to grass-roots racing includes ownership of Eldora Speedway in Ohio, where NASCAR recently held a truck series event, its first dirt race in a major series in more than 40 years.
Stewart was impassioned Friday at Pocono when asked about his five-flip accident last week in Canada.
"You mortals have got to learn, you guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff," he said at the time. "It was not a big deal. … When they wreck, they get upside down like that."
His childhood hero, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt — who came through the ranks at a time when all Indy drivers raced sprint cars — defended Stewart Tuesday for sticking to his passion and being a true "racer.
"He ain't no prima donna and life is short, and we don't know how we are going to die or what's going to happen," Foyt told AP by phone. "I just hate to see anybody badmouth Tony for anything he's doing, and if they are, they are just jealous."
When former NASCAR driver Jason Leffler died in a sprint car accident in June in Swedesboro, N.J., Stewart defended track and sprint car safety.
"I'd be grateful if you guys (media) would understand that what happened this week wasn't because somebody didn't do something right with the racetrack," he said. "It was an accident. Just like if you go out and there's a car crash."