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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Rusty Wallace finishes 10th in final Ferrari Finali Mondiali race

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In the final 35-minute Trofeo Pirelli race of the Ferrari Finali Mondiali, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace finished 10th overall for his best result of the four-day event.

Driving for Risi Competizione/Ferrari of Houston, Wallace’s top 10 bettered his results of 15th and 32nd in the second and third days of the event, which was held at Daytona International Speedway for the first time.

In Sunday’s race, Wallace finished third in the Professional, North America class.

“I told myself that after the struggles we’d had, that if I could walk out with a solid top 10 in the finals I’d be happy,” Wallace said in a reale from the track. “The team did great and I learned a ton. We’ve been here five days, run 1,000 laps and we don’t have a dent on the car.

“This was totally out of the box for me. It was a great opportunity from Ferrari, Risi and Daytona. We had a nice solid run and we had a lot of NASCAR fans here, too.”

German driver Thomas Loefflad won the Coppa Shell event. Venezuelan Carlos Kauffmann won the Trofeo Pirelli race Wallace took part in.

Report: Chrysler CEO: ‘Possible we can come back to NASCAR’ after 2012 departure

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FIAT and Chairman of Ferrari in the Paddock  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 4, 2016 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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During the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told The Daytona-Beach News Journal he thinks “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.”

Chrysler owns the Dodge brand, which left NASCAR’s top three series following the 2012 season after having returned to the sport in 2001. The departure came right after Brad Keselowski and Team Penske won Dodge a Cup championship.

Currently, only Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are in NASCAR’s top circuits, though some small Xfinity Series teams still use old Dodge bodies and the NASCAR Pinty’s Series is still supported by Dodge.

Marchionne told the News Journal he met with NASCAR vice-chairman Jim France and International Speedway Inc. CEO Lesa France Kennedy Saturday night and discussed the possibility of Dodge returning to the NASCAR fold.

“We are in a different place now,” Marchionne said, also noting it was his decision to leave the sport after the financial crisis that began in 2008. “I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue.”

Dodge won 57 races in the Cup series from 2001-2012.

Click here for the Daytona Beach News Journal’s full report.

Snowball Derby in rain delay

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The 49th annual Snowball Derby, being held at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, is in a rain delay after being scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET.

The race will feature NASCAR drives William Byron, John Hunter Nemechek, Grant Enfinger, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Christopher Bell and others.

The rain at the track began in at morning and has stopped for now.

When the race is finally run, it can be watched with a $30 purchase at speed51.com.

Rusty Wallace finishes 32nd in Day Three of Ferrari Finali Mondiali

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace had a disappointing outing in the third day of the Ferrari Finali Mondiali a day after earning a podium finish in his class.

Wallace, driving for Risi Competizione/Ferrari of Houston in the event at Daytona International Speedway, finished 32nd in the second Trofeo Pirelli race after a receiving a pass through penalty for driving through the “Bus Stop” on the back stretch. Wallace was forced to do so after he lost brake pressure while exiting the Turn 2 of the main portion of the track.

Wallace was running 14th at the time of the penalty but wound up posting the fastest speed on Saturday at 192.563 mph.

“I actually think we had a better run today,” Wallace said. “Now we’ll go back, work on these brakes, tune it up and get ready for the last race tomorrow – the World Final.

“Our lap times were great, lot better than Friday. We’ve got a little bit of work to do on the car but I think my driving’s improved a ton [this weekend.]”

Wallace finished 15th in his Friday race to earn a podium finish in his class.

A live stream of the World Final can be watched here.