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Stewart To Begin Final Cup Season On Sidelines

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 4 2016
Injury caused by an accident while driving an all-terrain vehicle will keep Tony Stewart from racing his what appears to be his final Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

Injury suffered during an accident while driving an all-terrain vehicle will keep Tony Stewart from taking a shot at winning the Daytona 500 this season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will miss the 2016 Daytona 500 later this month _ the start of his final season as driver _  after suffering a fracture in his back in an all-terrain vehicle accident Sunday.

Color nascar logoStewart-Haas Racing reported Thursday that Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet SS, sustained a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a non-racing accident while vacationing near San Diego. Stewart also attended the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., on that trip.

Stewart, 44, was transported to a West Coast hospital following the accident and promptly evaluated. He was awake and alert throughout the process and able to move all of his extremities.

Sprint Cup regular Greg Biffle, of Roush Fenway Racing, reportedly was among the group riding the dunes when Stewart was injured. Biffle confirmed to Sirius XM NASCAR Radio that Stewart was walking and moving his extremities after the accident “but he was in a lot of pain.”

Stewart flew back to North Carolina Tuesday evening and was admitted to a Charlotte-area hospital for further evaluation. On Wednesday, he underwent surgery. According to SHR spokesman Mike Arning, the subsequent recovery period means Stewart definitely will miss the Daytona 500 on Feb. 21. A timetable for Stewart’s return has not been determined, Arning said, but Stewart is expected to make a full recovery and return to the No. 14 Chevrolet this season.

Plans for an interim driver have not been finalized. While SHR fields four Cup teams it does not have a replacement driver in-house, as the organization is not involved in either NASCAR’s XFINITY or Camping World Truck series.

Stewart previously announced that 2016 would be his final season as a Cup driver, although he will continue as co-owner of SHR with businessman Gene Haas. Stewart never has won “The Great American Race,” going 0-for-17 in the traditional season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. SpeedWeeks activity at DIS is scheduled to begin next week.

Ironically, during the recent NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, an upbeat “Smoke” said he was in excellent physical shape after working with a nutritionist and undertaking an exercise program during the offseason.

“The big focus for this year is having fun,” Stewart said during an interview at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Theater, where he was joined by Cup teammates Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. “Go out, try to win races, compete for the championship and have a good time doing it.”

Stewart has missed several Cup races since August 2013, when he was sidelined for the final 15 events after suffering a broken right leg in a Sprint Car crash in Oskaloosa, Iowa. That injury snapped a streak of 521 consecutive Cup starts. In August 2014, Stewart sat out three races after he was involved in a Sprint Car incident in which Kevin Ward Jr. was fatally injured in Canandaigua, N.Y.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 4 2016
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