LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tony Stewart thought he was making a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas to play the role of supportive team owner.
After missing the final 15 weeks of the season with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car accident in August, the three-time NASCAR champion had no official reason to attend Thursday's annual Myers Brothers awards ceremony.
So as the ceremony was winding down, Stewart began to alert his pilots it was almost time to make the trip back to North Carolina.
Instead, he heard National Motorsports Press Association President Kenny Bruce describing Stewart in his introduction of the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Myers Brothers Award for contributions to the sport. He made the long walk to the front of the ballroom without the use of a cane as the audience of industry participants rose to give Stewart a standing ovation.
Stewart needed assistance climbing the stairs, but it was the only help he required as he collected his surprise award and warned his competitors he'll be ready for the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.
"It was hard sitting on the sidelines watching, but it gave me a different perspective that I haven't seen in years of what we all do each week," Stewart said in his speech. "It was a lot of fun to sit there on the side and watch you guys do what we do.
"But take this as your warning: I gave you guys (15) weeks off without me. I'll be ready for Daytona and be back kicking your (butts) again, so you guys enjoy it."
The Myers Brothers award was given to Stewart for his role as owner of Eldora Speedway, the half-mile dirt track that hosted the first national NASCAR race on dirt in 43 years when the Truck Series raced there in July.
"It was a lot of fun for us," Stewart said about the Eldora event. "I'm aging in dog years now. It takes a lot of time and effort. You probably won't ever hear me give too many of the promoters in NASCAR a hard time anymore because I know what it's like firsthand.
"To host an event takes a lot of time and effort and work and it takes a great staff to do that. I am very fortunate and blessed to have a good staff at Eldora and just very surprised by this (award). . This is very humbling, to be perfectly honest."