Tony Stewart will return to track at Richmond – Nascar

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Three-time NASCAR premier series champion Tony Stewart will return to competition this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, ending a season-opening run that saw the 44-year-old sidelined due to a back injury sustained in late January.
Stewart made the announcement Thursday via his Twitter account.

Later Thursday, NASCAR announced that Stewart had been granted a waiver for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and is eligible to qualify for the postseason. The surest way to do that is win a race, and get into the top 30 in points.

“NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities,” NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said. “We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck.”

The Indiana native is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, a four-team NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization that also fields entries for 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick, 2003 champ Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.
Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon have filled in as driver of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet this season during his absence. Vickers was initially scheduled to be in the car this weekend as the series heads to Richmond for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (1 p.m., FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Stewart will also represent SHR at a Goodyear tire test April 26-27 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and will practice and qualify his car next weekend at Talladega. He will start that race, but then yield the car to Dillon.

“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return,” Stewart said in a team release. “Richmond is a track where I feel very comfortable and because it’s a short track, the speeds are substantially less. The Goodyear test in Indy is sort of a controlled environment, allowing me to get more acclimated with my car at higher speeds. We’ll start the Talladega race to get the points, but understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident, we thought it was best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car. I’ll return full time at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can in my final year of Sprint Cup.

“I appreciate everyone’s patience and all the support they’ve given me the last couple of months, but the best medicine will come this weekend at Richmond when I finally get to go racing.”

 Team officials announced Feb. 2 that Stewart had sustained a back injury in a non-racing accident on Jan. 31 while driving an off-road vehicle.
He was transported to a local hospital on the west coast, diagnosed with a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra and eventually transported to a Charlotte, N.C.-area hospital.
According to Stewart, doctors inserted two rods and three screws to stabilize the injured area of his back.
He was eventually cleared to return to the race track, but not as a competitor, where he has helped oversee the operations of the SHR organization.
Stewart announced Sept. 30, 2015 that the 2016 season would be his last as a driver in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series and that Clint Bowyer would take over his role behind the wheel of the No. 14 entry beginning in 2017.
Stewart currently has 48 career victories. He won two championships with Joe Gibbs Racing (in 2002 and ’05) and edged Carl Edwards for the 2011 title while at SHR.

MORE: Photos of Tony through the years