It is the news the NASCAR world has been dreading to hear. No. 14 driver Tony Stewart will have to sit out at the beginning of the Sprint Cup season due to a severe back injury sustained during an all-terrain vehicle accident on Sunday.
According to his team, Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart’s ATV accident happened while he was vacationing on the West Coast. Following his accident, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was transported to a local hospital where his condition was evaluated. Stewart had reportedly sustained a burst fracture of the first lumbar (L1) vertebra. Nonetheless, he was said to have been awake and alert throughout this time and was also able to move all of his extremities. On Tuesday evening, Stewart flew to North Carolina where he was admitted to a Charlotte-area hospital. The next day, he underwent surgery.
The NASCAR community has been rallying around Stewart to make a full recovery and get back to racing soon as possible. Following his accident, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France issued a statement, saying, “On behalf of everyone at NASCAR, I wish Tony a full recovery and look forward to seeing him back in our sport when he’s ready to return.”
Drivers Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well as NASCAR Crew Chief Tony Gibson said they’re wishing Stewart “a speedy recovery.” Meanwhile, driver Michael McDowell said he hopes Stewart will “get healed, recovered and ready in time for his final season.”
Last year, Stewart made the announcement that 2016 would be his final series in the Sprint Cup. The 44-year-old NASCAR driver had a long racing career, earning three Sprint Cup Series champion titles in 2002, 2005 and 2011. He is also a two-time winner of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and a six-time winner of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Daytona International Speedway.
According to the Stewart-Haas Racing Team, a timetable has not been set with regards to Stewart’s return. However, he is expected to make a full recovery and return to his car in 2016. For the moment, the team is yet to finalize its plans for an interim driver.