It’s official: Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will begin his final season as a driver on the sidelines following an accident with an all-terrain vehicle on the West Coast last Sunday, Stewart-Haas Racing announced on Thursday.
That means Stewart will not compete in what was scheduled to be his final Daytona 500, and will miss additional early-season races. An interim driver for the No. 14 Chevrolet was not named Thursday.
SHR issued the following statement on Stewart’s condition Thursday afternoon, a day after he had surgery.
Stewart suffered a "burst fracture of the L1 vertebra" when the ATV he was driving landed wrong, compressing its shock absorbers. He was wearing a six-point harness and a helmet at the time of the accident, according to multiple sources, who added that Stewart’s vehicle did not roll over.
A number of drivers were at the dunes after attending the Barrett-Jackson Collector-Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona on Saturday. They were guests of noted car-collector Ron Pratte at an area known as Glamis Dunes near the California-Arizona border.
Greg Biffle was at the dunes but was not present when Stewart crashed. He told SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel that "we started kind of hearing bits and pieces that he hurt his back."
"I do know the people that helped him … (said) he was walking and moving all of his extremities, but he was in a lot of pain," Biffle said.
Denny Hamlin in 2013 suffered a compression fracture to the same L1 vertebra and missed four races. But even after his return, he struggled with back pain the rest of the season.
The setback is the latest in a string of unfortunate events for Stewart.
In August 2013, Stewart suffered a double compound fracture of the right leg in a horrifying sprint-car crash in Iowa. As a result, Stewart missed the rest of the Sprint Cup season and has not won a Cup race since.
The following August, he was involved in a fatal sprint-car crash in Upstate New York, when his car struck Kevin Ward Jr., who had gotten out of his crashed racer and ran toward Stewart. A grand jury concluded that the filing of criminal charges against Stewart was not warranted, but Ward’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death suit, which is still pending.
Stewart, who will turn 45 this year, has 48 career Sprint Cup race victories and three championships. He also won the Indy Racing League championship and the USAC Triple Crown.