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Tony Stewart says back feels great, but upcoming scans are critical to comeback

The NASCAR America crew discusses what Tony Stewart's rehab program to help his back means for his return to the track.

DENVER, N.C. -- Tony Stewart feels better than ever since fracturing his back nearly three months ago, but the timeframe of his comeback still will be dictated by a critical upcoming examination.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion, who suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident while riding in the sand dunes of Southern California in late January, will have his back scanned by the end of the month to evaluate the healing.

“The only thing I can’t do that I know of is get in a stock car right now,” Stewart said Wednesday during an event to promote sponsor Mobil 1’s advanced fuel economy green initiatives (which will be featured on Stewart-Haas Racing cars this weekend at Richmond International Raceway). “I’m waiting on (doctors) more than anything. I’ve been doing everything I want to do. The only thing I haven’t tried I want to try is swinging a golf club and seeing if I can do it.

“With everything else, I’ve been pushing hard and haven’t had any (ill) feeling. They said pay attention to your body, and if it doesn’t feel right, something’s not right, so I’ve been trying to push myself intentionally to see what it’ll take, and it hasn’t pushed back yet. I’m pretty excited about the way it feels right now.”

Despite being out of his No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart still has attended several races. He also has been active on his homestead near Columbus, Indiana. Over the last two weeks, he estimated he had cleared six acres of trees from his property by piloting heavy machinery.

“Honestly, I’ve just been staying busy more than anything,” he said. “I can’t say I’ve been in therapy a lot, but what I’ve been doing on my property at home, (the doctors have said) you’re getting just as much benefit doing that as you are in here with me. I’ve just been staying busy and doing a lot of projects I wanted to do on my land in Indiana, so that seems to be working.”

Stewart said being behind the controls of a skid-steer loader isn’t that relatable to driving a 3,400-pound stock car, but it does give him a way to mimic being behind the wheel.

“It’s been a lot of fun, but at the same time, a skid steer doesn’t have suspension, so every day I’ve been pushing harder to see what my back will take,” he said. “Until we do the scans, we’re not going to know where we’re at. Having the ability to find out for myself where I’m at is a benefit there of doing that. Every day, I keep pushing it harder on what I’m doing with it and how aggressive I am with running the equipment around there. Got a lot of cool stuff going on there.”

Is Stewart good with playing the waiting game?

“What choice do I have? That’s the better question,” he said. “When you don’t have a choice, you just do it. For us right now, it’s just a matter of doing the stuff that we need to do and wait until they tell us it’s time.”

Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon have split time in Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet in his absence.

The three-time series champion announced last September that the 2016 season would be his last in the Sprint Cup Series. Clint Bowyer will take over his Stewart-Haas Racing ride next year as the team switches to Ford.