DAYTONA — It’s official: three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart will miss the start of the 2016 Sprint Cup season following an incident Jan. 31 in the California Dunes.
It was announced just after 1 p.m. that Stewart sustained a “burst fracture” to his L1 vertebrae that will result in him missing the Great American Race with qualifying on Feb. 14 and the Daytona 500 race on Feb. 21.
Stewart was reportedly with a few other drivers vacationing in the California Dunes and riding on sand rail-dune buggies when he went over the top of a dune and landed flat on all four wheels. Stewart was wearing a helmet and was strapped into the sand rail with a multi-point harness at the time of the incident.
In a statement issued to the AdVantage News from Stewart-Haas spokesperson Mike Arning, Stewart was transported to a hospital in California, from where he was flown to a hospital in Charlotte, N.C., where he was admitted later Tuesday night. Stewart underwent surgery on Wednesday and is expected to make a full recovery.
“A burst fracture is a very painful injury,” Alton chiropractor Ryan Bemis said. “This is the type of injury that someone might sustain if they’ve had a pretty high fall. What makes this type of fracture different than a compression fracture is that the bone shards splinter out in many directions. If those shards come out the back side of the spine, they could press up against the spinal cord and cause problems with the lower extremities. A CT scan can determine the severity of the burst fracture. With an athlete such as Stewart, it would be a concern when he’s involved in a crash in the future.”
Stewart-Haas Racing has not released a timetable as to Stewart’s return and no other driver has been named as of Thursday to pilot the No. 14 Chevrolet for the start of the season. The Stewart camp has had experience in finding a replacement driver in the past. Stewart missed the last 15 races in 2013 after breaking the tibia and fibula in his lower right leg during a winged-sprint race at Southern Iowa Speedway and missed three races in 2014 following the tragic death of a young winged-sprint driver in New York.
Following his announcement to retire after the 2016 season on Sept. 30, Stewart will finish his stellar career without being named a Daytona 500 Champion. He has won 48 career Sprint Cup races in just under 600 starts but has not carried the checkered flag since June 2013 at Dover International Raceway. Uncharacteristic for the driver nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is winless in his last 77 starts.
Several drivers who could be called upon to fill Stewart’s shoes could include experienced NASCAR drivers such as Brian Vickers, David Gilliland, Eric Jones, Ty Dillon and Elliot Sadler.
NASCAR is holding off on its decision to determine if Stewart will receive a waiver to remain eligible to participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship title with a regular-season win and a top-30 spot in the points.
2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Kyle Busch missed 11 races with a broken right leg and broken left foot from an accident during the Xfinity race at Daytona. After winning four regular-season races, Busch climbed into the top 30 in points and became eligible. Busch earned the championship title after taking the win at Miami-Homestead in the final race of the season.