DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Injured NASCAR star Tony Stewart is out of bed and walking again, entertaining fans while live-streaming from a treadmill Friday.
At the same time Stewart was offering details about his wreck and recovery, Stewart-Haas Racing announced the three-time champion’s replacement for the Daytona 500: Brian Vickers will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet for the season opener while Stewart recovers from a fractured vertebra.
"We are doing much better," Stewart said via the Periscope application. "We’re starting to get the pain under control and I just didn’t want everybody thinking that while everybody was in Daytona today that I’m sitting on my (butt) here in Charlotte."
Stewart, who is 0 for 17 in "The Great American Race," is retiring at the end of the season. Winning the 500 on Feb. 21 was his goal, but he crashed in the sand dunes in Southern California a week ago.
Stewart lay in the sand next to his all-terrain vehicle for 90 minutes until his group — which included Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Rusty Wallace — discovered him. He was helicoptered to a nearby hospital before returning to North Carolina for surgery on a burst lumbar.
Stewart lifted his T-shirt on the treadmill and showed several bruises and healing wounds along his spine. He said he had two rods and six screws inserted in his back. He added that those, along with a rod in his leg left over from a sprint-car crash in 2013, will be removed at the end of the season.
"I wouldn’t say ‘poor baby,"’ he responded to one fan. "We’ve been through a lot worse than this. This is just another bump in the road."
Stewart also provided a few details about what happened in the sand dunes.
"I didn’t hit the wrong dune," he said. "I just went over one and just nose-planted in the bottom of it. It was about a 20- or 25-foot drop. I didn’t think it was straight down on the other side. … It’s like I told the guys at the shop, it’s pretty hard to make a story about breaking your back sound cool when you’re only going five mile an hour. I’ve never been hurt so bad running five miles an hour in my life."
Gordon, former NASCAR crew chief/car owner Ray Evernham, retired drag racer Don Prudhomme and car collector Ron Pratte helped Stewart get out of his wrecked car. Evernham travelled with him to the hospital.
"They were all rock stars getting me out," Stewart said. "They did an awesome job of making sure they didn’t do anything else to hurt us."
Stewart said doctors want him either lying flat on his back or standing upright. He’s not supposed to sit for any extended periods, so he ruled out travelling to Daytona. He has a back brace to wear when he returns to the car, and he expects it will happen sooner rather than later in 2016.
"It won’t be long and I’ll be back at it," said Stewart, who said he has lost 22 pounds since the beginning of December.
He ruled out postponing his retirement from NASCAR racing.
"No, I’m not doing another season because this happened," he said. "I made my decision and that’s it."
He also indicated he doesn’t plan on attempting another Daytona 500, the race that has eluded him for nearly two decades.
"I think this is just a missed deal with Daytona," he said. "You’ll see us there next year, but in whole different roles."
In the meantime, Stewart raved about Vickers as his short-term replacement, saying he "is good at Daytona." Vickers only drove in two races last season because of recurring blood clots.
"It’s nice to be able to take something negative on my side and be able to do something positive for somebody else with it," Stewart said. "I think he’ll do a good job."