Tony Stewart on his back injury: ‘We’ve been through a lot worse than this’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Stewart spoke publicly for the first time since his Jan. 31 sand dunes accident, saying he doesn’t expect to be in Daytona the next two weeks, that he’s “real confident” with Brian Vickers in the car and that he’s “never been hurt so bad running 5 mph in my life.’’

Stewart chatted with fans Friday morning on Periscope, shortly before Stewart-Haas Racing announced Vickers would drive the No. 14 car for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited and next week’s Daytona 500.

Stewart spoke while on a treadmill in his residence near Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I wouldn’t say poor baby,’’ Stewart said to a fan’s comment. “We’ve been through a lot worse than this. This is just another bump in the road.’’

Stewart suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain accident while in the expansive southeastern California desert sand dunes with Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and NHRA legend Don Prudhomme, among others. Stewart said he was injured when he went over a lip of a sand dune.

“I didn’t hit the wrong dune,’’ Stewart said on Periscope. “I just went over one and nose-planted into the bottom of it. It was about a 20-25 foot drop. I didn’t think it was a straight drop on the other side.’’

Stewart said he has “like two small rods and six screws in there (his back).” He stated that the plan would be to remove those at the end of the year and the rod in his leg from his sprint car crash in 2013.

At one point during his Periscope, Stewart had someone else hold his phone to show the scars on his back from the surgery. He had two parallel lines of scars — one for each rod that connects to a vertebrae above and below the damaged vertebrae.

Stewart, who has stated this would be his final season driving in the Sprint Cup Series, said he didn’t expect to be in Daytona for any of Speedweeks. He said doctors “want me either walking or in bed. I’m not supposed to do anything.

“I think this is a missed deal at Daytona. You’ll see us there next year but in a different role.’’

Stewart said he only needs to wear a brace when he’s in a car. He said he was not wearing it while walking on his treadmill. He said Friday was the first time on a treadmill since his accident and admitted to feeling like a  “caged animal” with the limitations on what he can do.

The team says they don’t have a timetable for Stewart’s return, saying it will depend on how he heals. Stewart spent part of his time on Periscope listening to the team’s press conference with Vickers and other members of Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I’m real confident with Brian in it,’’ Stewart said. “It’s pretty cool to see how excited he is about being in the car. He’s a good guy, a good race car driver.’’