By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Following the unfortunate accident in an all-terrain vehicle on Tuesday that has left Tony Stewart hospitalized with a back injury, the NASCAR community continues to wait on the status of the three-time Sprint Cup champion.
With no word on the severity of the injuries, many wonder what this could mean for Stewart, who declared 2016 would be his last in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Stewart, 44, has missed a combined 18 races dating back to 2013, breaking bones in his right leg that season in a Sprint Car race and then encountered legal issues involving the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in 2014.
Although we do not know the severity of the injury or a timetable for a return (if any), the start of the season is upon us with the Daytona 500 kicking off in just over two weeks, and that poses the question, what if?
What if Stewart isn’t ready in time for Daytona?
In all likelihood Stewart Stewart-Haas Racing would look to a veteran driver, but who? Let’s break down the possibilities.
Clint Bowyer – The current HScott Motorsports driver is set to eventually move to SHR in 2017, but from a sponsor standpoint, everything is already set up for Bowyer this season and making the move early could prove to be a stretch, especially is Stewart isn’t out a significant amount of time.
Justin Allgaier – The guy that Bowyer replaced at HScott Motorsports has found a new home with JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series. To his credit, Allgaier put in several solid runs and showed growth throughout his, to this point, brief Sprint Cup career.
Ty Dillon – SHR went with Ty’s brother, Austin, when Stewart was injured in 2013. So, this isn’t a huge reach in thought, but with a lack of Sprint Cup experience in comparison to the current possibilities this seems unlikely.
Brian Vickers – The former Michael Waltrip Racing driver has showcased that in proper equipment he can get the job done. The only issue with Vickers is his past health concerns. If he has that under control then he would be a stout choice to fill-in the No. 14 for SHR.
Brendan Gaughan – A Richard Childress Racing driver in the XINITY Series, Gaughan has a wealth of experience in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions and a personality fit that just about any sponsor can take a liking to.
Alex Bowman – Recently let go under bizarre circumstances by Tommy Baldwin Racing, Bowman is currently only under contract in a part-time deal with JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series. The 22-year-old has experience and would be thrust in a golden opportunity that could showcase his abilities, something that mid-tier equipment at TBR could not provide.
Other drivers that might be considered are David Gilliland, Elliott Sadler, Josh Wise and JJ Yeley.
The hope is that a substitute driver won’t be necessary, but in the event that Stewart isn’t ready come Daytona, the team will need someone capable and ready to step into the No. 14.
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