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Questions and answers about Tony Stewart’s situation

Medical expert Mike Ryan breaks down the intricacies of Tony Stewart's vertebrae injury and explains what his rehab objectives should be moving forward. Ryan says the biggest concern would be the possible nerve damage.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Thursday that Tony Stewart would miss the beginning of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain accident Sunday on the West Coast.

The announcement has led to many questions. Here are answers or explanations to some of the questions.

What is a burst fracture?

It is described at as an injury where the vertebra is “severely compressed.’’ The term burst, according to the site, implies that the margins of the vertebra are spread out in all directions. That can bruise the spinal cord and cause paralysis or partial neurologic injury. Stewart-Haas Racing officials announced Tuesday — when the injury was first disclosed — that Stewart could move his extremities after the accident.

A burst fracture is seen in a motor vehicle accident or a fall from a height and can cause severe pain. Greg Biffle told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Stewart was injured in an incident in the dunes of Southern California.

Biffle noted that dunes can be challenging. “The dunes are unpredictable,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “ You can land harder on some spots than others. I’ll tell you what, I’ve knocked the wind out of myself, thought I broke my tailbone or back before.’’

What is the L1 vertebra?

It is the smallest vertebra, according to The L1 vertebra bears the weight of the upper body and acts as a transition between the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae.

The human backbone features a column of 33 total vertebrae with 24 that are moveable. The moveable vertebrae are divided into three regions — cervical, thoracic and lumbar. The L1 vertebra is level with the ninth rib.

Did Tony Stewart have surgery?

Yes. He had fracture stablizing surgery Wednesday.

How long will Tony Stewart be out of the car?

Stewart-Haas Racing said only that the three-time champion will miss the beginning of the Sprint Cup season. No timetable was set.

Who will be in the No. 14 until Tony Stewart returns?

Stewart-Haas Racing has not announced a replacement driver. NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan lists the likely candidates and what makes them an attractive choice.

What happens to Tony Stewart’s team for the Sprint Unlimited?

Tony Stewart was eligible to compete in the Feb. 13 event at Daytona International Speedway as a former Sprint Unlimited winner. NBC Sports checked with NASCAR on Thursday about the team’s eligibility without Stewart driving, and a representative stated they were examining the issue.

Something to consider. There are two drivers eligible for the Sprint Unlimited currently without rides: Jeff Gordon and David Gilliland. If neither finds a ride, that would allow the next two highest in points not yet in the Sprint Unlimited to be eligible for the event (Casey Mears and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.). The next eligible driver then would be Sam Hornish Jr., who does not have a Cup ride.

So is Tony Stewart eligible for a waiver for the Chase?

One of the requirements to make the Chase is that a driver must start every race. NASCAR granted waivers to Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson last year for missing races for various reasons -- Kyle Busch was injured, Kurt Busch was suspended and Larson missed a race after passing out the day before the event. Nothing has been determined in Stewart’s case and likely won’t until closer to his return.

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