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Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 8/17/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

AUTO RACING

Stewart’s return, fill-ins in flux

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Austin Dillon practices Friday at MIS. He will drive Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chev­ro­let on Sunday. Austin Dillon practices Friday at MIS. He will drive Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chev­ro­let on Sunday.
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BROOKLYN, Mich. — The competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing said he and Tony Stewart’s team are planning for the possibility that the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver will be out of action for more than a month and said Stewart-Haas Racing is considering having two drivers in the No. 14 Chevrolet for the remainder of the season.

“Before we get to Bristol, everything will be ironed out for the rest of the year,” Greg Zipadelli said Friday at Michigan International Speedway during qualifying for the Pure Michigan 400.

“We’ve had a few hurdles we’ve had to get through. It will be two drivers, probably, for the rest of the year.”

Stewart sustained a broken tibia and broken fibula in his right leg earlier this month in a sprint car race in Iowa and underwent surgery to place a rod in his leg.

Austin Dillon will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race and plans to drive in the Nationwide race today at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Dillon will take a helicopter from Brooklyn to Mid-Ohio in the morning for the Nationwide race, but will miss the morning’s qualifying and will start from the back of the field for today’s Nationwide race.

Dillon drives for Richard Childress Racing — owned by his grandfather — and leads the Nationwide driver points standings.

“It’s cool to be able to say I’ve driven for multiple people,” Dillon said. “The great thing about it is that you learn a lot, and you learn with different guys, and you’re learning how things are supposed to be done and what it really takes to be a team leader.”

Zipadelli said Dillon has “at least one more race through the rest of the year for us,” and said Dillon is one of the drivers in consideration for Stewart’s car for the remainder of the season.

“I’m working under the assumption that he’s out for the next month or so, or longer,” Zipadelli said of Stewart. “He went to the doctors this week and had a decent visit with no setbacks.

“The next seven to 14 days will tell a lot of how it heals, how those things take. It’s going to be a really slow process.”

Zipadelli met with Stewart twice this week, prior to traveling to Michigan.

“He’s in a lot of pain at times,” Zipadelli said. “He was in a wheelchair when we had our meeting [Thursday], going over things at the shop and what we’re doing, moving forward. He’s supposed to be in bed for the next seven days, with his foot above his heart.”

EYEING A RIDE: Earlier in the week, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing officials confirmed that Juan Pablo Montoya will not return to the team for the 2014 season.

Friday at MIS, other drivers were already eyeing the possibility of taking Montoya’s seat in the No. 42 Chevrolet. Kurt Busch said he spoke with Ganassi officials about the possibility of driving for the team in 2014.

“I’m good friends with [Earnhardt Ganassi Racing minority owner] Felix Sabates, and I know Chip [Ganassi, the team owner] real well,” Busch said. “They came up with that decision not based off any talks that I’ve had with them, but it’s a potential opportunity, that’s for sure.”

Busch drives for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing and has entertained the possibility of driving on the IndyCar circuit, after he completed IndyCar rookie orientation in May.

“The Ganassi thing came up, and other phone calls have happened,” Busch said. “Nothing’s going to change.”

Michael Waltrip Racing announced this week that Brian Vickers will replace Mark Martin in the No. 55 Toyota in 2014, but Martin debunked any rumors that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing representatives had reached out to him about replacing Montoya next year.

“I have no idea,” Martin said. “I promise, no one has gotten to anyone on my side from Ganassi. I know it’s really churning out there, but there hasn’t really been the first discussion about that. I’m as interested as you guys are in what Chip Ganassi has up his sleeve.”

JOHNSON’S GOOSE EGG: Jimmie Johnson won’t shy away from discussing the fact that he has yet to win at MIS. He’s atop the Sprint Cup points standings entering Sunday’s race but is 0 for 23 in his career at MIS.

“I’ve tried for a lot of years here,” Johnson said. “I’ve been very close but haven’t been able to pull it off. We had issues that kept all four cars out of great finishes. If we avoid varying issues that took place, we stand a very good chance of getting into victory lane.”

In June’s Quicken Loans 400, Johnson stayed within a second of eventual race winner Greg Biffle, but Johnson lost his right tire and hit the wall in Turn 2 with less than five laps left, ending his chances for his first win at the track.

“I do pay attention to the tracks I haven’t won at,” Johnson said. “It’s more on the front side, going to the event and building excitement about racing at the track and wanting to win.

“When the race starts, it doesn’t go through my mind at that point. It has when an opportunity slips by, especially here.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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