AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was hospitalized Tuesday with a back injury and Stewart-Haas Racing said the team was unsure of the extent of his injuries just a week before he is expected in Daytona to prepare for his final season in Sprint Cup.
The 44-year-old Stewart was injured Sunday during an accident while he was riding an all-terrain vehicle somewhere on the West Coast, SHR spokesman Mike Arning told The Associated Press. He was being evaluated at an undisclosed hospital and able to move all extremities.
Arning indicated Stewart’s condition will not be updated again until Thursday. Stewart was in Arizona on Saturday night at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale and interviewed on live television from the event.
Stewart is retiring at the end of this NASCAR season, and he was due to report next week to Daytona International Speedway to begin preparing for the Feb. 21 Daytona 500.
“We have received word from Stewart-Haas Racing of Tony Stewart’s accident and injury,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a statement. “On behalf of everyone at NASCAR, I wish Tony a full recovery and look forward to seeing him back in our sport when he’s ready to return.”
Stewart turns 45 in May and missed a third of the 2013 season with a broken leg he sustained in a sprint car accident. A year later, his car struck and killed a fellow driver at a dirt track in New York. Stewart was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, but faces a civil suit from the family of Kevin Ward Jr.
Stewart spoke last month of his excitement over his upcoming final season, and said he’d likely return to racing in non-NASCAR events upon his retirement. He has not competed in anything out of a Sprint Cup race since Ward’s death in 2014.
But he also spoke of what he’d like to accomplish in this final season with a focus on winning his first Daytona 500. Stewart is 0-17 in the crown jewel event and came heartbreakingly close to winning it several times during his career. It remains one of the few holes on a resume that includes the three championships, 48 victories and more than $122 million in winnings.
He goes into the year with a new crew chief — his third change since he won the title in 2011 — and hopes to find some success on the track after three long years. Both the injury to his leg and Ward’s death took a toll on Stewart, and he has not won a race since 2013, before he was injured.
Stewart was 28th in the final Sprint Cup standings last year with three top-10 finishes and 24 laps led, both career lows.
Speaking to reporters at the Rolex 24 at Daytona last week, A.J. Foyt expressed sympathy for Stewart and said the driver has not gotten over Ward’s death. Stewart considers Foyt his hero and idolized the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner as a child.
“I feel sorry for Tony, I think people don’t realize that wreck really hurt him more,” Foyt said. “He’s really a soft-hearted person and something like that really bothers you. I know I had an accident years ago when I ran IMC and a guy ran through the cockpit with me and threw me out on the race track and he lost his life. That bugged me and I had nothing to do with it.
“Things like that bother you for a long time. If you don’t have no feelings, it wouldn’t bother you but Tony’s got a lot of feelings. And I just hope he goes out on top.”