Tony Stewart will miss the start of his final NASCAR Sprint Cup season. He will miss out on winning his first Daytona 500 in what was going to be his final attempt. Is Stewart's final season a wash before it even gets started?
With a burst fracture in his L1 vertebra and his subsequent surgery last week, Stewart is expected to miss months of action this season.
There will likely be some who question whether the 44-year-old, three-time Sprint Cup Series champion should even bother to try.
Honestly, it wouldn't be for glory. Stewart's impressive resume across so many forms of motorsports already ensures he is among the best drivers in racing and there will be a spot waiting for him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Kyle Busch showed last year it is possible to miss a good part of the season and still win the series championship, but there is no indication at this time whether Stewart will be able to return in time to mount a similar comeback.
If he can't, then why come back at all?
There is one very important reason and it's one Stewart has cited as the reason he planned to compete this season to begin with.
In the announcement of his retirement plans last September, Stewart stated plainly they if it were only up to him, he would have just made the 2015 season finale at Homestead, Fla, his final race.
But he felt the fans that have stuck by him throughout his career deserved the opportunity to watch him compete one last time.
Injury has now interrupted Stewart's plans this season, but, if anything, his fans will likely become even more enamored with him if he is able to recover and return to the race track.
While one of the most successful, Stewart has also been one of the most controversial drivers in NASCAR over his career.
Many fans have a love-him-or-hate-him attitude for Stewart. It would be difficult to find anyone – NASCAR official, fan or media member – who looks on Stewart and the litany of incidents throughout his career with ambivalence.
Stewart has been polarizing and that's even more reason that his fans – who have weathered many storms – should have the chance to say goodbye, even if it's just part of a season.
Stewart doesn't have to come back to prove anything to anybody. He will be remembered as an incredible competitor regardless of what other special moments he may still create in a race car this season.
If the question, though, is will he return this season?
I'm certain Stewart's fans already know the answer.
If he can, he will.
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