NSCS: Injury, back surgery delay Tony Stewart’s return to No. 14 car indefinitely

Photo Credit: Noel Lanier

NASCAR Wire Service — After undergoing surgery on Wednesday for a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra, Tony Stewart will miss the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, his team Stewart-Haas Racing announced on Thursday.

The team said the three-time series champion was expected to make a full recovery and return to the No. 14 Chevrolet for a portion of his final season, but there is no specific timetable.

Stewart-Haas has not finalized arrangements for an interim driver.

After attending the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Saturday, Stewart suffered the back injury in all-terrain vehicle accident in the dunes near the Arizona/California border on Sunday.

He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation before flying to Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday evening and being admitted to a hospital there. On Wednesday, he underwent surgery.

Stewart was to have competed in the Feb. 13 Sprint Unlimited non-points exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway. Now, of course, he will miss that race and the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race, the Daytona 500 (Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX).

Winning that event for the first time was at the top of Stewart’s bucket list. This was to have been Stewart’s last run in the Great American Race. At the end of the 2016 season, he will turn over the seat of the No. 14 Chevy to Clint Bowyer.

A burst fracture of the sort Stewart sustained, described in medical language as a “traumatic spinal injury,” is characterized as more serious than the type of compression fracture of the spine Denny Hamlin suffered at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in 2013.

Hamlin avoided surgery, missed four races and used a relief driver at Talladega before returning to full-time action.

Stewart’s organization made a point of saying that the driver was awake and alert throughout the entire evaluation process after the accident and was able to move all his extremities.