LAS VEGAS — Driver Tony Stewart doesn't know when he'll race this season. But he remains resolute that this is his final year as a Sprint Cup driver.
"When they clear me to do it, when it's time to get back in the car, we'll be plenty ready," said Stewart, who broke his back in a dune-buggy accident Jan. 31 and is out indefinitely, including for today's Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Stewart felt well enough to make the trip to Las Vegas in a role as coach, cheerleader and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, albeit against doctor's orders. He did the same thing last week when he traveled to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Next week, Stewart will have his back X-rayed in Charlotte, the first time since he had surgery that there will be a medical update on his condition.
After that, Stewart hopes he'll have a timetable for his return. But Stewart said the injury hasn't changed his mind about retiring, which he announced in 2015.
"I'm not going to change the plan because I got hurt," the three-time Cup champion said. "These are the cards we were dealt. We'll play the rest of the year out. As soon as they tell me I can be back in the car, I'm going to be wide open, 100 percent."
Stewart is trying to heal and implied his doctors weren't happy with his decision to come to Atlanta and Las Vegas.
"I'm definitely breaking the rules," he said. "The doctors want me laying in bed and walking. They don't me sitting and standing. They don't want me flying out here. They didn't want me in Atlanta. But I can't lay in bed any longer. It's about to kill me. We did everything short of bubble wrap me to ride out here on the plane."
Stewart said he hopes NASCAR grants him a medical waiver to make him eligible for the Chase for the Championship if he qualifies, as it did last season for Kyle Busch, who missed the first 11 races with a broken leg and foot. NASCAR rules state a driver must try to qualify for every race to be eligible for the Chase, unless a waiver is granted. Busch went on to win the title.
For Stewart, it's about pain management, though there's a healing process too.
"(I) feel pretty good," he said. "It's like everything else: Your body tells you when it's had enough, when it's sore. You've just got to listen to it.
"Even if I'm in a small group, if I take three or four steps back, stay in the group, it almost looks like you're eager to go to the bathroom. But you have to move around a little bit to keep the weight from hanging there and being hard on the rods in my back."
Brian Vickers drove for Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet in the season-opening Daytona 500 and will do so again at Las Vegas.
"He doesn't need me telling him what to do," Stewart said. "I think it's good for our team (for me to be here), more than anything. I want to be here to support them. … I'm a lot happier here. I would rather be here in pain than be at home comfortable and no pain. The pain is worth it."