Tony Stewart is no stranger to long absences from NASCAR races. In fact, he is in pretty good company on a list of Cup misfortune.
Stewart won’t begin his final Sprint Cup season at Daytona because of a serious back injury. In fact, there was no immediate indication when Stewart would return.
Three other Cup-winning drivers missed multiple races because of injuries: Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip.
That’s of little consolation to Stewart, who will miss his last chance to win the Daytona 500. That race will be run Feb. 21, and Stewart-Haas Racing is seeking a replacement for the No. 14 car.
Stewart could miss months in recovery from surgery after a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra, which carries upper-body weight in a critical section of the spine. This injury is worst than a fracture, according to medical information.
Injured in a California desert off-road accident on Jan. 31, Stewart had surgery on Feb. 3.
This isn’t the first time Smoke’s driving career has been snuffed by injury. A broken leg in 2013 cost him months as well.
Here’s a look at Smoke and other Cup drivers that missed a significant number of races because of injury.
â Hats off to Bob Pockrass and his 2013 Sporting News article on this subject
While recovering from his latest accident, Stewart can recall his lengthy recover from crash injuries in 2013. As with his latest accident, the ’13 crash was not in a NASCAR race.
Stewart was participating in a sprint-car race at an Iowa dirt track in August 2013 when this occurred.
Stewart broke his right leg, costing him 15 races â the remained of the 2013 Cup season. He was 11th in the Sprint Cup standings and eligible for a Chase wild card. The rest of the season, Stewart swapped his sprint car for a souped-up motorized scooter.
He returned for the 2014 season but never regained his top racing form. That season, Stewart was involved in another sprint-car crash, this one leading to the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr. He missed three races trying to cope with the accident’s aftermath. And in 2015, Stewart had one of his worst seasons.
Stewart is expected to return in 2015, Stewart-Haas officials said Thursday. When â and to what effect â remains to be determined.
A horrible accident at Daytona led to a long injury absence, out of which Busch produced a story worthy of Cinderella and the mythical phoenix.
Driving in an Xfinity Series race the day before the Daytona 500, Busch broke is right leg and left foot when his car left the track and struck an unprotected infield wall.
Busch missed 11 races. He was given an opportunity to race his way back into Cup competition, and what followed should become NASCAR legend. Busch won four races in five weeks, fulfilled win and points requirements to make the field of 16 Chase for Sprint Cup drivers â and made it through 12 races with a title shot at Homestead-Miami.
Busch won the Cup championship race to crown his comeback.
After continued therapy and additional offseason surgery, Busch prepared for the 2016 season.
Hamlin was left with a compression fracture in his lower back from a last-lap crash with Joey Logano at Auto Club Speedway on March 24, 2013.
He missed next four races, derailing his season and cost a chance to make the 2013 Chase.
Hamlin, a Busch teammate with Joe Gibbs Racing, returned May 5 at Talladega but ran only part of the race before turning his car over to Brian Vickers. He returned to action full time May 11 at Darlington, where he finished second.
After another top-five finish in the next race, Hamlin struggled.
In 2015, Hamlin finished the season with a knee injury that required postseason surgery. He continued rehabilitation before heading to Daytona.
Junior missed two races during the 2012 Chase because of concussions, one from a crash while testing at Kansas Speedway in August and another in a last-lap crash at Talladega Superspeedway two months later.
The concussions were not diagnosed until Earnhardt visited a doctor because of headaches on the Tuesday following the Talladega crash. He had few instances of concussion-like symptoms since that time.
Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver the past 13 years, was in the 2015 Chase. His role with Hendrick Motorsports increases this season with the retirement of Jeff Gordon and arrival of Chase Elliott, whom Junior is helping mentor.
Rudd missed five races in 2007 after he separated a shoulder in a crash at California Speedway.
The injury ended Rudd’s streak of 813 consecutive races. His streak included a record 788 consecutive starts before he skipped the 2006 season.
Rudd retired after the 2007 season with 23 career victories.
Marlin missed 2002’s final seven races after breaking his neck in a crash at Kansas Speedway.
Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Marlin had led the Cup standings for much of the season. He was fifth in the standings, 121 points out of the lead, when he his season ended.
His replacement, Jamie McMurray, won the October race at Charlotte in just his second Cup race.
Marlin, who had 10 career victories and won the Daytona 500 twice, ran four more full seasons but never won another race.
Petty missed races because of injury during four different seasons, including two in 2007 when he broke a hand.
How’d he break it? By punching a cabinet in his team hauler.
Petty missed 11 races in 1991 after breaking a leg in a crash at Talladega.
He missed two races in 1996 because of broken ribs from a crash at Indianapolis and one race in 2003 because of a cracked rib from a crash at Bristol.
Petty had eight career victories, his last coming in 1995.
Nadeau’s career ended because of a head injury in a 2003 crash during practice at Richmond International Raceway in 2003.
The former Hendrick Motorsports driver was driving for MB2 Motorsports at the time of the accident. He was in a medically induced coma for three weeks.
Nedeau’s 10 races in ’03 included one top-five finish. He won one Cup race, in 2000.
Irvan was injured in two major accidents, with the second one forcing his retirement.
Irvan missed the final 11 races of 1994 and nearly all of 1995 with a severe head injury after a crash in practice at Michigan International Speedway left him clinging to life.
Irvan returned to run three races at the end of 1995, and then won two races in 1996 and one in 1996, all of them for Robert Yates Racing.
He retired after 21 races in 1999 following a crash in a Busch Series race at, of all places, Michigan.
Craven’s career was derailed by a 1997 crash at Texas Motor Speedway, leaving him with a concussion, a broken shoulder and cracked ribs.
Craven missed two races that year. Then after four races in 1998, he missed the next 13 because of post-concussion syndrome.
Craven competed in four more races for Hendrick Motorsports before being released. He returned the following season and won a Cup race in 2001 and in 2003.
Park, like Craven, had two major injuries in his career.
In 1998, he missed 13 races after he broke a leg in a crash at Atlanta.
In 2001, he missed the final 12 races â as well as the first four races of 2002 â because of a concussion from an accident at Darlington Raceway. Park crashed during a Busch Series race when his steering wheel came unhooked. His car snapped sideways and was T-boned by Larry Foyt’s car.
Park, who had two career Cup wins, ran two more full Cup seasons but never won another race.
Elliott missed seven races in 1996 when he broke a leg in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway while driving for his own team.
Four different drivers replaced Elliott, who missed five consecutive races and then had to miss Watkins Glen and Bristol later in the season.
Elliott, who had 44 career victories, went winless from 1995-2000, and then won four races for team owner Ray Evernham from 2001-03.
Waltrip missed six races with a broken left leg after an accident at Daytona International Speedway in the summer 1990. The accident occurred in the final practice.
Waltrip was driving for Hendrick Motorsports at the time, which in some ways was a turning point in his career. He went winless for the first time in 15 years that season and left Hendrick after the season to start his own team.
A three-time Cup champion, and now Hall of Famer, Waltrip never finished higher than eighth in the standings again.
Bonnett, who won 18 Cup races and was part of the famed Alabama Gang, was left with what appeared to be a career-ending head injury when he crashed his Wood Brothers Racing car at Darlington Raceway in 1990.
Bonnett returned to run two races in 1993. In 1994, he was killed in a crash during practice for the Daytona 500.
Allison had to retire after a severe head injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in 1988.
Allison was hospitalized for several months and still suffers from memory loss from the accident.
A Hall of Fame driver, Allison finished his career with 85 victories in 718 career starts.