When the NASCAR Sprint Cup season begins later this month, Tony Stewart will not be among the drivers in the field for the Daytona 500.
The three-time NASCAR champion will miss the start of the 2016 season -- his final one as a driver -- after suffering a fractured vertebra in a non-racing accident on Sunday and undergoing back surgery on Wednesday.
Stewart is expected back behind the wheel after a full recovery, but there is no timetable for his return. An interim driver had yet to be named.
Stewart-Haas Racing called Stewart's injury a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra. 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's team emphasized that the driver was awake and alert throughout the evaluation process after the accident and was able to move all his extremities.
The 44-year-old Stewart Stewart was to have competed in the Feb. 13 Sprint Unlimited non-points exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway. Now, he will miss that race and the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race, the Daytona 500 on 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 similar to Stewart's, described in medical language as a "traumatic spinal injury," is characterized as more serious than the type of compression fracture of the spine that 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.