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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A moment in time: How Kevin Harvick won on the final restart

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 25:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, leads Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 ditech Chevrolet, on the final restart during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 25, 2016 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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LOUDON, N.H. — In a moment, it was all gone for Matt Kenseth.

All the effort over 295 miles and more than 2 hours and 45 minutes of racing was gone — as was the victory — when Kevin Harvick passed Kenseth for the lead on a restart with six laps to go.

“They gave me a shot to win,’’ Kenseth said of his team, “and I didn’t hang on for it.’’

The final moment, though, actually began a few laps earlier.

On the restart at Lap 290, Kenseth pulled away from Martin Truex Jr., who was second at the time, and seemed headed for the win until a caution for a multi-car incident.

As the cars circled New Hampshire Motor Speedway behind the pace car, Kenseth’s team told him that there had been complaints about the last restart. He asked who complained. His team told him NASCAR, although officials ruled the restart was legal.

“They made it sound like I slowed down the last time,’’ Kenseth said after finishing second to Kevin Harvick.

“But in my opinion the leader is always supposed to have the advantage. He’s the leader; he earned that advantage. They said I slowed down a little bit last time, which I’ve got to re-watch it. I don’t really think I did, but if I did at all, it’s because the inside car was laying back a little bit, and you want to make sure he gets up to your nose so it’s a fair restart. If he’s back at your door and anticipates a little bit, it’s not a fair restart. He’s going to be equal to you or a little bit better.’’

So as Kenseth, on the outside, and Harvick, on the inside, headed toward the restart on the following restart, Kenseth made a mistake.

“I saw Kevin at my door, and I should have known better,’’ Kenseth said. “ I should have went deep in the (restart) box and waited, and the acceleration was probably better down there anyway, but I didn’t. I went right at the first line, and he anticipated a little bit of that and got rolling good through the gears and then I got through the gears bad. I spun the tires in second, I spun the tires in third, so I had a really bad restart besides all that.’’

Harvick detailed his thoughts to NBC Sports on that final restart:

“It’s definitely a challenge just to get it right. It’s so easy to mess it up. I had gone into that restart really focused on trying not to spin the tires because I felt I was in a vulnerable position on the bottom and didn’t really want to get myself three-wide or spin the tires and wind up losing two or three spots.

“I just wanted to fire off and have a chance when I got to Turn 1 and wound up getting lucky really that Matt had what he said happened with him getting through the gears. As we got into Turns 1 and 2, I was able to let off the brake and go back to the throttle and get back beside him coming off of Turn 2 and that was the key. My goal was to protect what I had because we needed a solid day, and it wound up putting us in a position by just getting off the restart well.’’

Truex, who finished seventh, said he wasn’t surprised that Harvick won because the No. 4 team is strong but felt like how he and Kenseth raced each other late helped Harvick.

“I wish Matt didn’t let him win,’’ said Truex, who led 141 of the 300 laps. “He raced me that hard and held me behind him all that time. If I just could have got by him, I don’t think anybody could have touched us. I felt like with him being able to hold us off, I thought he was going to be OK. But I think he was in the same position as me. I think he ran really hard trying to keep me behind him.

“We both burned our tires off. Man, we were going as hard as we could go every single lap, and I think Harvick was back there in clean air. He wasn’t as fast as we were, so he was just running smooth, consistent laps, and he ended up having better tires than us at the end.’’

Harvick said it wasn’t that easy.

“I would probably disagree with that a little bit because I had my own challenges,’’ Harvick said of racing Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and others.

“They would race on the restarts (Kenseth and Truex) and they would slide around and definitely were using their tires up, but on the restarts I was having to do the same thing. I think it was just really about track position for us, to be able to get closer to the front and fire off with those guys and not have to battle somebody else and then be so far behind.’’

Carl Edwards: ‘Really proud of my guys for not quitting’ (video)

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A commitment line violation set pole sitter Carl Edwards back in Sunday’s Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But to Edwards’ credit, his crew rallied and worked to get him back up in the field, to eventually finish with a sixth place showing. It may not have been the win or the top five that Edwards hoped for, but Edwards felt positive about his showing.

“I made it back to sixth-place so I’m pretty happy with the result considering what we had,” Edwards said. “Now we head to Dover with a little bit of a point cushion so Dover is one of my favorite race tracks, one of my best tracks and this team should have won this race in the spring so hopefully we can go there and lock ourselves into the next round.”

 

Catch the entire Edwards interview in the video above.

Kyle Busch: Anything can happen heading into Dover (video)

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Kyle Busch has a 33-point cushion in the Chase for the Sprint Cup points standings heading into next Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway.

But Busch, who is the defending Sprint Cup champion, remembers well what happened to six-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Dover last year, when Johnson — who had won 10 previous times at the one-mile concrete track — was eliminated from advancing in the Chase.

“We’ve seen anything happen in this business so I don’t like it very much at all, but it’s certainly better than having a one-point cushion,” Busch told NBCSN after Sunday’s race. “There’s pluses and minuses in this business, but anything can happen. We saw it with the 48 (Johnson) last year – they had issues at Dover.

“We’ve had issues before and we’ve been able to make our way through or we’ve been knocked out like in years prior. You just have to go and fight it out and try to keep track of that big picture and do what you need to do to move on.”

Check out the rest of the interview with Busch in the video above.

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Kevin Harvick relieved to advance to next round in Chase

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Kevin Harvick breathed a big sigh of relief after crossing the finish line at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.

With his victory, Harvick secures an automatic berth in the Round of 12, the second round of the Chase, which begins after next Sunday’s Round of 16 finale at Dover International Speedway.

He talked with NBCSN after Sunday’s race about how relieved he feels as he continues his pursuit of his second Sprint Cup championship in the last three seasons.