After a hectic, fender-banging finish Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was among those on pit road basking in the euphoria of the ending and the fruits of his Stewart-Haas Racing organization's first victory of the season.
But Stewart, whose final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been interrupted by a severe back injury, also had good news to savor in terms of his health.
"You're not waiting on me as far as my mind, I'm ready to go," Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after Sunday's Good Sam 500, won by SHR driver Kevin Harvick in thrilling fashion. Four races into his final season, Stewart has yet to turn a lap because of a burst fracture of his first lumbar (L1) vertebra -- the uppermost bone in the lower back -- in an all-terrain vehicle accident Jan. 31.
"It's just, we had a good doctor visit this week and the X-rays were good," he added. "It wasn't really to see about the bone growth as much as just making sure the rods and screws were staying in place where they wanted them. They were really happy."
A return to the cockpit is still on indefinite hold for Stewart, who announced last September that 2016 would be his final championship campaign in NASCAR's premier series. The 44-year-old driver did not travel to the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway, but has been at the track the last three weekends in his capacity as a team owner.
At least one of those visits was made against doctors' orders, but he's made progress in other areas unbeknownst to his medical team.
"The funny part was when the doctor told me, or the surgeon cleared me to drive a street car," Stewart said of his most recent doctor's visit March 9. "I didn't have the heart to tell him I've been driving for almost three weeks. I'm not really one to follow the doctor's orders anyway, so we're fine. I've been up all day today and I feel great, so we're excited about where we're at right now."
Stewart told SiriusXM that part of his rehabilitation has involved strengthening his core; he is expected to make a full recovery. Stewart also indicated that his next scheduled doctor's appointment would come in late April.
"So we'll just have to wait and see," Stewart said. "Just have to be patient and doing what I'm doing and he told me to listen to my body, that it will tell me what was too much. I'm pretty hard-headed, so hopefully my back is hard-headed as well and will put up with it. I don't feel like I've been pushing it too hard at all."
Stewart did enjoy the hard pushing on the last lap, with Harvick edging runner-up Carl Edwards by a hair under the checkered flag in the closest finish in track history. Despite the shoving and fender scrapes in the home stretch, Stewart called the last-lap tactics fair and square.
"What a finish. It was pretty cool watching that last corner there," Stewart said. "Carl did what he had to do to nudge him, which was perfectly good the way Carl did it. It was awesome. He did it with class and then off of (Turn) four, it's every man for himself. They got hammering on each other trying to break each other's momentum, so it worked out good, though. I'm proud of Kevin and those guys."