NASCAR champion Tony Stewart met with the media Friday for the first time since a non-racing accident sidelined him last month. Stewart was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident on January 31 in California. The 44-year old suffered a suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra. He was flown to North Carolina the following Tuesday and underwent surgery the following day.
Friday Stewart met with the media at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series prepares for Sunday’s Kobalt 400. It was not his first time at a track since his accident; Stewart made a brief appearance at Atlanta Motor Speedway last week and gave advice to one of his two interim drivers Ty Dillon. Friday, Stewart said he was still unable to provide a timetable for his return.
“I wish I knew,” Stewart said. “I actually go back to Charlotte for x-rays next Wednesday. That’s the first time since the surgery that we’ll have an update, have a progress report.
“But for a month now, I haven’t done anything but just kind of chill out,” he added. “The doctors want me lying in bed and walking. They don’t want me sitting and standing. “
Stewart said that he would probably catch some grief from his doctors. They had specific rules, Stewart said, and he was breaking them.
“They didn’t want me flying out here,” Stewart said. “They didn’t want me in Atlanta. But I can’t lay in bed any longer. It’s about to kill me. “
“We did everything we could,” he added. “We did everything short of bubble wrap me to ride out here on the plane. We were as comfortable as can be. “
As for how he feels now, Stewart said he feels pretty good.
“It’s like everything else: your body tells you when it’s had enough, when it’s sore,” he said. “You just got to listen to it. We try not to sit any longer than we have to, try not to stand very long. Even if I’m around a small group, if I take three or four steps back, stay in the group, it almost looks like you’re eager to go to the bathroom, but you have to move around a little bit to keep the weight from hanging there and being hard on the rods on my back. “
While there is still no timetable for Stewart’s return. He is expected to make a full recovery and return to the No. 14 Chevrolet sometime t in 2016. When he does he could be granted a waiver to compete for the Chase. Kyle Busch was granted such a waiver by NASCAR last season. He returned after recovering from an injury and won the 2016 NASCAR championship.
“I’ll do the best I can,” Stewart said Friday. “That’s all I ever do, is do the best that I can. Whatever they decide they decide. I would like to think it’s going to be similar to what they did last year with Kyle (Busch). “
“The biggest thing I’m worried about is just getting this healed properly,” Stewart added. “That’s my biggest concern, is just making sure that it heals right. I’m anxious to get x-rayed next week because I’m very curious about what the progress has been like for the last 30 days. “
“We’ll wait and see. But, you know, it’s just a waiting process right now. Honestly, like I said, the biggest concern is just making sure it heals right the first time. “
Stewart had announced last season that 2016 would be his last as a fulltime driver in the Sprint Cup series. That of course was before he was injured and will now miss many of the races this season. The injury however has not changed his decision to retire at the end of this year.
That’s what we said in the announcement last year that this year would be the last year,” Stewart said. “I’m not going to change the plan because I got hurt. These are the cards we were dealt. “
He also seemed a bit embarrassed by the circumstances of his accident. Stewart was driving a sand buggy in the desert when the accident happened.
“It was a weird accident that nobody ever thought would happen,” Stewart said. “I mean, I can’t even make the story about how I got hurt, I can’t even make it sound cool. I mean, I got hurt driving five miles an hour. That’s hard to make sound cool. “
“I wish I could tell you the story of I was jumping a 50-foot gap, running 60 miles an hour, it flipped over, caught on fire, and I broke my back,” he added. “That’s not what happened. “
“I went over the lip of a dune, went down 20, 25 feet, landed like a lawn dart. It broke my back. It’s hard to make that sound cool, but that’s just what it is.”
Driver Brian Vickers will be behind the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet normally raced by Stewart this weekend at Las Vegas. Stewart said while he was helping spot for the younger and less experienced Ty Dillon last week at Atlanta, he would not be doing so this weekend.