Stewart won't pull off on the shoulder

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The driver is expected to start this weekend despite a broken shoulder blade.

CONCORD, N.C. -- There is no disabled list in NASCAR, where playing hurt is mandatory -- even for defending series champion Tony Stewart.

Stewart is expected to start this weekend in Dover, Del., despite a broken shoulder blade that knocked him out of Sunday's event at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Ricky Rudd, who has yet to race this season, will practice and qualify the car and be on standby to relieve Stewart if he needs to get out of the car.

"You know he's going to try," Jimmy Makar, vice president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said Tuesday. "We've got to try to start the race for points, even if he just gets out after a few laps. I feel like he should be able to do that."

Under NASCAR's unforgiving scoring system, a driver must start a race to receive any points. He can be replaced in the car anytime after the first lap.

It eliminates any option of missing a race because it would cripple a driver's championship hopes.

This injury has already hurt him in the standings -- he dropped from second to fourth, 231 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, after wrecking out of Sunday night's race and finishing 42nd.

It's unclear when Stewart was actually injured. He hit the wall hard in Saturday night's Busch Series race and was taken to a hospital for X-rays. Doctors cleared him to race on Sunday, but a tire problem sent him into the wall again.

Stewart was in obvious pain, favoring his right arm and wincing, as he was helped out of his car. He was on a stretcher when he was taken by ambulance back to the hospital, where the broken right scapula was diagnosed. This is Stewart's second injury this season, he broke a rib in a sprint-car accident in January.

Former JGR driver Bobby Labonte sustained an identical injury in 1999 when he broke his shoulder blade in a crash at Darlington. He was able to start the race, but gave way to relief driver Matt Kenseth.

"If it's anything like we saw with Bobby, there isn't much you can do for it," Makar said. "It's more of a pain threshold type of thing. As long he can withstand the pain or we can give him some local medicines to deaden that area of his back, he'll be OK to drive."

NASCAR will allow Stewart to compete as long as he is medically cleared by a doctor, said competition director Robin Pemberton, who added the stringent points system is unlikely to be changed to accommodate injured drivers.

"That's been brought up from time to time, but I think that would be hard to govern," Pemberton said. "As drivers are, they don't like every race track they go to and they might come down with the sniffles or something the week before they go to Bristol, or Talladega or here or a road course. So I don't think that will ever happen."

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