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The Inside Line: Should drivers curtail extracurricular racing?

4:09 PM, Aug 6, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In auto racing, accidents happen very often, and sometimes wrecks can result in a driver suffering injuries.

Auto racing is without a doubt a dangerous sport, and drivers are faced with enormous risks, no matter what racing circuit it is or which racetrack they're competing.

But some drivers are taking too many risks when they do too much racing.

Tony Stewart's injury from a crash during a sprint car event on Monday night at Southern Iowa Speedway brought into question whether drivers should partake in racing that doesn't fall within the scope of their regular curriculum.

One other question has been raised. Has sprint car racing become too dangerous? The safety of that sport has been debated since 37-year-old Jason Leffler died from injuries he sustained in a crash during a sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, N.J. almost two months ago.

There have been numerous fatalities that have occurred in sprint car races this year, including Leffler and most recently Kramer Williamson, who died this past Sunday after being injured in an accident at Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown, Pa. the day before.

Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, broke his right tibia and fibula when his car flipped multiple times during a wreck in the sprint car race at the half-mile dirt oval in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Stewart's leg injury required immediate surgery. His recovery likely will take several months.

The 42-year-old Stewart loves to race a lot. In fact, he had planned on competing in more than 100 events this year.

But Stewart has had his share of bad luck in sprint car competition lately. Last week, he avoided injury when he flipped several times during a wreck at Ohsweken Speedway, a dirt track in Ontario, Canada. On July 16, Stewart caused a crash that involved 15 drivers during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Brewerton, N.Y. Stewart took blame from the accident that sent 19-year-old Alysha Ruggles to the hospital with a compression fracture in her back.

During a press conference last weekend at Pocono Raceway, the site of the Sprint Cup race, Stewart addressed his recent accidents in the sprint car events.

"I guarantee you there were 15-20 guys across the country that flipped just like that this weekend and were just fine just like we were," Stewart said. "If it's bad we will let you guys know. That was not bad at all. I raced the next night and ran fifth in the World of Outlaw race. It was not bad."

Stewart will not compete in this weekend's race at Watkins Glen International. Road course expert Max Papis will substitute for Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet there. It's not known at this time how many more races Stewart will miss.

The injury likely will end any hopes of Stewart making this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. With five races to go before the Chase begins, he is 11th in the point standings, just five points behind 10th-place Greg Biffle. Stewart currently holds one of the two wild card positions due to his one win this season, which came on June 2 at Dover.

"I think what Tony is going to go through is pretty bad," driver Juan Pablo Montoya said during a NASCAR teleconference on Tuesday. "After what happened to Leffler earlier in the year, everybody was like, ooh, do we want to keep racing sprint cars and stuff. I'll tell you, NASCAR really does a very good job for safety. The truck standards, the car standards are so much better today. I've been here for seven years, and seven years ago it was good, and nowadays with the new cars, the cars are really, really safe.

"I feel really comfortable. Not having Tony there this weekend, it's a shame, because he's always a contender. He always runs well (at Watkins Glen). He's going to be missed."

Over the years, some team owner have prohibited their drivers from competing in additional races for fear that an injury might sideline them. But Stewart is the co-owner of his team, allowing him to determine whether or not he does additional racing.

"When an injury happens to a driver of Tonys magnitude -- one of the sport's most visible superstars -- such as when Dale Earnhardt's death spawned safety innovations, everyone takes a closer look," three-time Cup champion and NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip said. "We already were questioning the wisdom of racing in other series, especially sprint cars. But I think Tony's injury probably is the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Some owners and drivers now might decide it's too risky and curtail this. When Tony has time to evaluate everything, he might come up with some safety innovations that could make sprint car racing safer. Anytime something like this happens to someone like Tony, everyone will benefit down the road."

Stewart remained in the hospital on Tuesday for further observation. He will need additional surgery.

"I told someone to go get my phone or else I was going to get up and get it myself," Stewart said in a posted message on his website. "Finally got reconnected to the world and just want to say thank you for all the prayers and well wishes. My team will remain strong and I will be back."

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