EXCLUSIVE: What happened to Tony Stewart in the sand dunes from eyewitness Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme

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Legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme gave NBC Sports a first-hand account of Tony Stewart’s accident in the Southern California sand dunes Sunday.

Stewart and a number of current and former racers including Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Prudhomme were having a day of fun in the sun and sand when Stewart became separated from the group and went missing for about 90 minutes.

Here’s how Prudhomme described the incident to NBC Sports:

“We were riding these sand rails. We do that quite a bit. We were all together. What really happened is, it isn’t hard to get split off from one another. In other words, if a guy makes a left turn and you’re not watching his flags or there’s dust or something, you can make a right turn and kind of get lost.

“So, we got mixed up and (Stewart) was probably missing for an hour-and-a-half from the pack, at least. He was missing, he was not there. We figured maybe he got hooked up with one of the other guys.

“Then we were stopped and kinda gathered up and started to shoot the s— and asked, ‘Where’s Tony?’ One of the guys (on the dunes) came driving up and said, ‘Hey, one of your buddies is hurt over on the other side of the hill.’

“There was about three of us who went back on our buggies and we came upon him. He was laying there. He got out of it (the sand buggy) and was laying there in the sand on his back.”

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From left, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart and Don Prudhomme before they and others including Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle hit the sand dunes this past Sunday in Southern California. (Photo courtesy Don Prudhomme)

Contrary to media reports, Prudhomme said Stewart did not roll his sand buggy. Rather, Stewart apparently caught air in a jump and landed hard.

“What happens in the dunes, there was kind of a big mound and he flew over it and came down hard on the shocks,” Prudhomme said of Stewart. “In other words, it bottomed itself out. What happened then, it drove the seat up into his ass, basically. It was like, BAM! He hit really hard, but we were running pretty fast.

“We pulled up, asked ‘How you doing, dude?’ He was on the ground and said his back’s hurt. We made sure he could move all his legs and everything, so everything was good there.”

Prudhomme said Evernham took charge of the scene. Gordon, car collector Ron Pratte and Prudhomme provided assistance.

“Ray Evernham is a real good guy, a real responsible guy,” Prudhomme said. “He’s been around situations like this before. Basically we got (Tony) into Ron’s cart and Ron drove him real slowly out of there. (Tony) was holding himself up, as if his ass was real sore.

“Ron has a place in the area, so he had his helicopter fly over and land on this pavement because he couldn’t land on the sand. Tony had his arm around my shoulder and had another arm around Ray’s shoulder and Gordon was holding him up by the belt. He was walking real slow and we got him into the helicopter and laid him in the back seat.

“Ray got in the helicopter to go to the hospital. The pilot said he was going to Palm Springs Hospital and got on the radio. Ray was the best guy for the job, so he went with Tony and looked over Tony until midnight.”

Prudhomme defended Stewart’s driving.

“(Stewart) wasn’t driving reckless or crazy or anything else,” Prudhomme said. “He just happened to hit this (sand) ramp and the way it came down, and it was a lot taller or higher up than he probably realized. And it came down and crashed. We went back to get the car he was driving after he got into the helicopter and just fired that baby up and drove it back to the ranch.

“It wasn’t like it flipped over. I’ve heard people say it flipped over. No, it didn’t flip over, it just came down so hard that it messed his back up.”

Stewart was conscious and alert throughout the entire episode, Prudhomme said.

“He was hurting, and we were all concerned about him,” Prudhomme said. “But he wasn’t like knocked out or anything like that. He was totally coherent, totally everything. It’s just his back was screwed up.

“None of us realized how bad it was. The next day Ron and I went over to the hospital to see him and we sat in the room and he was showing us X-rays and s— and talking. Tony’s Tony. He looked at me like he could just get up and walk out of there, but he couldn’t. But he looked great.”

When asked to describe how Stewart looked in the hospital the day after the wreck, Prudhomme borrowed a page from Stewart’s usual comedic playbook.

“He needed a shave and a bath, I know that!” Prudhomme quipped.

“(Stewart) was great. In fact, we were in the hospital and it didn’t look like he was going to have to be operated on. It was just going to be where they were going to put a support on him. He walked around with the doctor early in the morning with a walker.

“So we told him, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’ll have to be operated on.’ But apparently when they got him back to Charlotte, these guys, whoever looked at him, felt he needed an operation.

“I just hope he’s going to be alright. He wasn’t doing anything crazy. Those things can run 110 mph pretty easy on the sand. It’s a nice piece of equipment.”

As it turned out, Stewart had traveled a couple of miles in the wrong way, Prudhomme estimated.

When asked about when Stewart was missing, Prudhomme said the three-time Sprint Cup champ was starting to worry if anyone would find him.

“It scared the s— out of us guys,” Prudhomme said. “We were saying that Tony had been missing, and then we’re told Tony’s hurt. It was a ways away from where we were at. We found the trail he was on, went over there, and I said to (Stewart), ‘Dude, how long have you been laying there?’ He said, ‘About an hour-and-a-half.”

But there was a bit of comfort for Stewart, so to speak, Prudhomme added.

“It was the most comfortable place you could lay in the soft sand with a bad back,” he quipped. “In other words, he wasn’t ready to get up. I think he was starting to doze off a little bit (while waiting to be rescued). He just rested there.

“You know Tony, he’s a tough son-of-a-bitch.”

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Wood Brothers give a tour of new race shop

LOUDON, NH - JULY 15:  Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 16, 2016 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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The Wood Brothers begin this season not only with a charter but with a new home.

The team had shared a building with JTG Daugherty in Harrisburg, North Carolina, but moved after last season to a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. The move puts the Wood Brothers closer to Team Penske. The two organizations are aligned.

The Wood Brothers will again have Ryan Blaney as driver. The team also has a charter, leasing it from Go Fas Racing. That means the Wood Brothers team is guaranteed a starting spot in every Cup race this year, unlike last year when they did not have a charter.

Who is NASCAR’s best in the last 100 Cup races?

HAMPTON, GA - FEBRUARY 28:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, lead the field on a restart during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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One hundred Cup races is nearly three seasons. That’s a good way to look at how drivers and teams perform with driver contracts often lasting three years.

The numbers over the last 100 Cup races can prove interesting. Among some of the takeaways:

  • Jimmie Johnson has 14 wins but only 33 top-five finishes. That means 42.4 percent of his top-five finishes are wins.
  • Both Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick have 72 top-10 finishes in their last 100 races, meaning they have scored top 10s in 72 percent of these races. Harvick led the way with 52 top-five finishes, thus he’s averaging a top-five finish in more than 50 percent of his starts in the last 100 races.
  • Kyle Busch‘s numbers are a bit lower than some because he missed the first 11 races of the 2015 season after his injury at Daytona in the season-opening Xfinity race. Still, he ranks toward the top in wins, top-five and top-10 finishes during this stretch.
  • Brad Keselowski and Logano rank in the top three in wins, top fives, top 10s and poles in the last 100 races, showing the strength of Team Penske over this period.

Here’s a look at the numbers in the last 100 Cup races among active drivers. (Only drivers who have Cup confirmed rides for the 2017 season are included).

MOST WINS IN LAST 100 RACES

14 — Jimmie Johnson

13 — Joey Logano

10 — Kevin Harvick

10 — Brad Keselowski

  9 — Kyle Busch

  7 — Matt Kenseth

  6 — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  6 — Denny Hamlin

  5 — Martin Truex Jr.

  3 — Kurt Busch

  1 — AJ Allmendinger

  1 — Aric Almirola

  1 — Chris Buescher

  1 — Kasey Kahne

  1 — Kyle Larson

MOST TOP 5s IN LAST 100 RACES

52 — Kevin Harvick

50 — Joey Logano

39 — Brad Keselowski

36 — Kyle Busch

33 — Jimmie Johnson

31 — Denny Hamlin

31 — Matt Kenseth

28 — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

23 — Kurt Busch

18 — Kyle Larson

17 — Martin Truex Jr.

13 — Jamie McMurray

MOST TOP 10s IN LAST 100 RACES

72 — Kevin Harvick

72 — Joey Logano

64 — Brad Keselowski

58 — Denny Hamlin

55 — Matt Kenseth

53 — Jimmie Johnson

52 — Kyle Busch

51 — Kurt Busch

44 — Martin Truex Jr.

43 — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

38 — Kyle Larson

38 — Ryan Newman

33 — Jamie McMurray

32 — Kasey Kahne

28 — Clint Bowyer

MOST POLES IN LAST 100 RACES

10 — Kevin Harvick

  9 — Joey Logano

  8 — Brad Keselowski

  6 — Denny Hamlin

  6 — Matt Kenseth

  5 — Kyle Busch

  5 — Kurt Busch

  5 — Martin Truex Jr.

  2 — AJ Allmendinger

  2 — Austin Dillon

  2 — Chase Elliott

  2 — Jimmie Johnson

  2 — Jamie McMurray

MOST DID NOT FINISHES (DNFS) IN LAST 100 RACES

14 — David Ragan

12 — Aric Almirola

12 — Landon Cassill

11 — AJ Allmendinger

11 — Kyle Busch

10 — Matt DiBenedetto

10 — Matt Kenseth

10 — Kyle Larson

10 — Danica Patrick

10 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

  9 — Trevor Bayne

  9 — Jimmie Johnson

  9 — Kasey Kahne

  9 — Paul Menard

Auto-Owners Insurance expands sponsorship of Martin Truex Jr.’s team

DARLINGTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 04:  Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 4, 2016 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
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Auto-Owners Insurance is doubling the number of races it will sponsor Martin Truex Jr. in 2017 and ’18.

Auto-Owners Insurance sponsored Truex for three races this past season. The company will sponsor Truex in six races in each of the next two races.

The six races Auto-Owners Insurance will sponsor Truex in 2017 are Kansas Speedway (May 13), Michigan International Speedway (June 18), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 23), Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 9), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 7) and Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 12).

“Teaming up with Furniture Row Racing has been an outstanding fit for Auto-Owners, and we are excited to continue our partnership for the 2017 and 2018 seasons,” said Mary Pierce, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Auto-Owners, in a statement. “Martin and the No. 78 team have pioneered their way to excellence at the highest level of NASCAR. We truly admire their hard work and consistency, and look forward to being a part of their continued success.”

Plan ahead: 2017 NASCAR schedules for top series

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 25:  Cars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 25, 2012 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andrew Coppley - Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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Each day it gets closer to the when the roar of engines return in NASCAR’s national series.

To get you ready, here are the schedules for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, K&N Pro Series East and K&N Pro Series West all in one place.

Start times and TV networks are included for the Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules to further help in your planning for the upcoming season.

Here is the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule:

2/18 Daytona International Speedway (The Clash) – 8 p.m. ET (FS1)
2/23 Daytona International Speedway (The Duels) – 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
2/26 Daytona 500 – 2 p.m. ET (FOX)
3/5 Atlanta Motor Speedway – 2:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
3/12 Las Vegas Motor Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
3/19 Phoenix International Raceway – 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
3/26 Auto Club Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
4/2 Martinsville Speedway – 2 p.m. ET (FS1)
4/9 Texas Motor Speedway – 1:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
4/23 Bristol Motor Speedway – 2 p.m. ET (FOX)
4/30 Richmond International Raceway – 2 p.m. ET (FOX)
5/7 Talladega Superspeedway – 2 p.m. ET (FOX)
5/13 Kansas Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
5/20 Charlotte Motor Speedway (All-Star Race) – 6 p.m. ET (FS1)
5/28 Charlotte Motor Speedway – 6 p.m. ET (FOX)
6/4 Dover International Speedway – 1 p.m. ET (FS1)
6/11 Pocono Raceway – 3 p.m. (FS1)
6/18 Michigan International Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (FS1)
6/25 Sonoma Raceway – 3 p.m. ET (FS1)
7/1 Daytona International Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
7/8 Kentucky Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
7/16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
7/23 Indianapolis Motor Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
7/30 Pocono Raceway – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
8/6 Watkins Glen International – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
8/13 Michigan International Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
8/19 Bristol Motor Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
9/3 Darlington Raceway – 6 p.m. ET (NBSCN)
9/9 Richmond International Raceway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
9/17 Chicagoland Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
9/24 New Hampshire Motor Speedway – 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
10/1 Dover International Speedway – 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
10/7 Charlotte Motor Speedway – 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
10/15 Talladega Superspeedway – 2 p.m. ET (NBC)
10/22 Kansas Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
10/29 Martinsville Speedway – 1 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
11/5 Texas Motor Speedway – 2 p.m. ET (NBC)
11/12 Phoenix International Raceway – 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
11/19 Homestead-Miami Speedway – 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

Here is the 2017 Xfinity Series schedule:

2/25 Daytona International Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway – 1:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
3/11 Las Vegas Motor Speedway – 4 p.m. ET (FS1)
3/18 Phoenix International Raceway – 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
3/25 Auto Club Speedway – 4 p.m. ET (FS1)
4/8 Texas Motor Speedway – 1:30 p.m. (FOX)
4/22 Bristol Motor Speedway – 12:30 p.m. (FS1)
4/29 Richmond International Raceway – 12:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
5/6 Talladega Superspeedway – 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
5/27 Charlotte Motor Speedway – 1 p.m. ET (FS1)
6/3 Dover International Speedway – 1 p.m. ET (FS1)
6/10 Pocono Raceway – 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
6/17 Michigan International Speedway – 1:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
6/24 Iowa Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
6/30 Daytona International Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
7/7 Kentucky Speedway – 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
7/15 New Hampshire Motor Speedway – 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
7/22 Indianapolis Motor Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
7/29 Iowa Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
8/5 Watkins Glen International – 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
8/12 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
8/18 Bristol Motor Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
8/27 Road America – 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
9/2 Darlington Raceway – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
9/8 Richmond International Raceway – 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
9/16 Chicagoland Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
9/23 Kentucky Speedway – 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
9/30 Dover International Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
10/6 Charlotte Motor Speedway – 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
10/21 Kansas Speedway – 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
11/4 Texas Motor Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
11/11 Phoenix International Raceway – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
11/18 Homestead-Miami Speedway – 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Here is the 2017 Camping World Truck schedule (all races broadcast on Fox Sports 1 unless otherwise noted):

2/24 Daytona International Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET
3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway – 4:30 p.m. ET
4/1 Martinsville Speedway – 2:30 p.m. ET
5/12 Kansas Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
5/19 Charlotte Motor Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
6/2 Dover International Speedway – 5:30 p.m. ET
6/9 Texas Motor Speedway – 8 p.m. ET
6/17 Gateway Motorsports Park – 8:30 p.m. ET
6/23 Iowa Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
7/6 Kentucky Speedway – 7:30 p.m. ET
7/19 Eldora Speedway – 9 p.m. ET
7/29 Pocono Raceway – 1 p.m. ET
8/12 Michigan International Speedway – 1 p.m. ET
8/16 Bristol Motor Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
8/27 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – 2:30 p.m. ET
9/15 Chicagoland Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
9/23 New Hampshire Motor Speedway – 1 p.m. ET
9/30 Las Vegas Motor Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
10/14 Talladega Superspeedway – 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
10/28 Martinsville Speedway – 1:30 p.m. ET
11/3 Texas Motor Speedway – 8:30 p.m. ET
11/10 Phoenix International Raceway – 8:30 p.m. ET
11/17 Homestead-Miami Speedway – 8 p.m. ET

Here is the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Series schedule:

2/19 New Smyrna Speedway
4/8 Greenville Pickens Speedway
4/22 Bristol Motor Speedway
5/6 South Boston Speedway 1
5/6 South Boston Speedway 2
6/3 Memphis International Raceway
7/1 Berlin Raceway
7/8 Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park
7/15 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
7/28 Iowa Speedway
8/4 Watkins Glen International
9/2 TBA
9/16 New Jersey Motorsports Park
9/29 Dover International Speedway

Here is the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series schedule:

3/18 Tucson Speedway
3/23 Kern County Raceway Park
3/25 Irwindale Speedway 1
3/25 Irwindale Speedway 2
5/13 Spokane County Raceway
5/20 Orange Show Speedway
6/10 Colorado National Speedway
6/24 Sonoma Raceway
7/28 Iowa Speedway
8/12 Evergreen Speedway
8/26 Douglas County Speedway
9/30 Meridian Speedway
10/14 All American Speedway
11/4 Kern County Raceway Park