Stewart cleared for rehab

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Columbus native Tony Stewart was evaluated Wednesday by doctors, who checked on the back injury he sustained in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. The NASCAR veteran and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing sustained a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra and had surgery Feb. 3.

Satisfied with the amount of healing that has taken place, doctors implemented a rehabilitation regimen that will hasten Stewart’s recovery. Future evaluations will be necessary before a timetable is known for Stewart’s return to racing.

A full recovery is expected for the three-time NASCAR Cup champion, as is a return to the No. 14 Chevrolet this season.

Stewart, who announced Sept. 30 that 2016 would be his final season as a driver, is trying to heal as fast as he can. He said last week his doctors weren’t happy with his decision to come to Atlanta and Las Vegas.

“I’m definitely breaking the rules,” Stewart said during a news conference in Las Vegas. “The doctors want me laying in bed and walking. They don’t want me sitting and standing. They don’t want me flying out here. 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 short of bubble wrap me to ride out here on the plane.”

Stewart said he hopes NASCAR will grant him a medical waiver that would him make him eligible to qualify for the Chase, as it did last season for Kyle Busch, who missed the season’s first 11 races with a broken leg and foot.

“Whatever they decide, they decide,” Stewart said of NASCAR officials. “I would like to think it’s going to be similar to what they said last year with Kyle.”

For Stewart, it’s about pain management, although the healing process also must be allowed to take place.

“(I) feel pretty good,” he said. “It’s like everything else — your body tells you when it’s had enough, when it’s sore. You’ve just got to listen to it. We try not to sit any longer than we have to, try not to stand up very long.

“Even if I’m in 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 in my back.”

Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers have been replacement drivers for Stewart this season. Dillon will drive the No. 14 Chevy this weekend at Phoenix.