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Tony Stewart to begin rehabilitation, return still unknown

Stewart suffered a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra in a January all-terrain vehicle accident.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Stewart still doesn't know when he can return to NASCAR competition, but he took the first step toward doing so when doctors authorized him to begin a rehabilitation program Wednesday.

Stewart has not raced in any of the three Sprint Cup Series events this season after suffering a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident in January. Wednesday was the first medical update he received since breaking his back, which occurred while dune buggying in the Southern California sand dunes with a party that included Jeff Gordon and other NASCAR notables.

During Stewart's evaluation, doctors concluded the bone healing was satisfactory enough that they implemented a full rehabilitation program that will "hasten" the three-time Cup Series champion's recovery, according to a Stewart-Haas Racing statement.

No timetable is set on when Stewart could potentially return for his already announced final NASCAR season before retiring at the end of the year.

Although cleared to drive street cars, Stewart cannot sit for an extended duration, he told reporters Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He is expected to make a full recovery.

In Stewart's absence, SHR has had Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon share Stewart's No. 14 car. Vickers drove in the season-opening Daytona 500 and last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Dillon raced Feb. 28 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and will fill in Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.