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Tony Stewart ignores doctors’ advice, travels to Las Vegas for NASCAR weekend

Tony Stewart is recovering from a serious back injury sustained in January and won’t return to competition until he is fully healed.

Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Ignoring medical advice and doing everything short of wrapping his injured back in bubble wrap, Tony Stewart is attending this weekend's NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and the driver of its No. 14 car suffered a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra in a dune buggy accident Jan. 31 in the Southern California desert. Stewart is sidelined indefinitely and doctors want him either walking or laying on his back.

Nonetheless, Stewart traveled to last week's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and is also in Las Vegas where he's fulfilling sponsor commitments. He spent much of the flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Las Vegas stretched out flat.

"I'm definitely breaking the rules," Stewart said Friday. "They didn'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.

"I would rather be here and be in pain than be at home, be comfortable and no pain. The pain is worth it to me. I don't mind it."

But while Stewart is willing to ignore his doctors' advice in regards to traveling, the three-time Cup Series champion is listening when it comes to how soon he can return. Stewart will only come back when medically cleared, a timetable still not determined. He hasn't even begun rehabilitation.

Stewart will undergo X-rays for the first time since the initial injury on Wednesday, which will provide an indication of when he can resume driving. Currently he can drive a street car, though not for prolonged periods.

"If I do anything too soon, I could mess it up for the rest of my life," Stewart said. "It's more important to let this thing heal right. We're not rushing to get back in the car. The No. 1 priority is to give it the opportunity to heal right the first time.

"We're not going to push that issue. We're not going to try to do something before we're ready. We're going to definitely make sure it's done right."

In Stewart's absence SHR will continue to employ the services of Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers. Dillon will drive in all races in which Bass Pro Shops sponsors the No. 14 car, while Vickers will handle the other events including Sunday's race at Las Vegas.

When Stewart does return he is hopeful NASCAR will grant him an exemption stating he is Chase for the Sprint Cup-eligible if he were to win a regular season race and finish ranked 30th or better in points -- similar to the waiver he received when he missed three races in 2014, and the one Kyle Busch got last season. Busch missed 11 races with a broken right leg and left foot, returned in mid-May, won four times during the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, then captured the championship.

"Whatever (NASCAR) decides, they decide," Stewart said. "I would like to think it's going to be similar to what they did last year with Kyle. The biggest thing I'm worried about is just getting this healed properly. My biggest concern is just making sure that it heals right."

As he did during a Periscope question-and-answer session with fans last month, Stewart reiterated Friday he will not amend his plans to retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of the season. And though he will continue racing sprint cars, running an occasional Cup Series event is not going to happen.

"I'm not going to change the plan because I got hurt," Stewart said. "These are the cards we were dealt."