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Tony Stewart returns to NASCAR after tragic death of Sprint Driver Kevin Ward Jr

After missing three weeks of racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since fatally striking sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race on August 9, in New York when Ward exited his car, Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobile 1 Chevrolet, was given a standing ovation by the crowd at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night, August 31 to welcome him back after a three-week absence.

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
•	Tony Stewart returned to the track on Sunday for the first time since he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr three weeks ago.
• Tony Stewart returned to the track on Sunday for the first time since he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr three weeks ago.
AFP/Getty Images

The Daily Mail reported that NASCAR granted Stewart-Haas Racing a waiver on Friday making the racing team eligible to participate in the chase for the Sprint Cup championship at Sunday night’s race at Atlanta. However having missed time on the track, the only way Stewart can make the 16-driver championship field after blowing a right tire Sunday night during a run-in with Kyle Busch that sent him into the wall during the 122nd lap, is if he wins next weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Stewart’s rival, Denny Hamlin seemed a bit confused about the ruling when asked if NASCAR was making the right decision by granting Stewart-Haas Racing a waiver. “It's a very vague thing,” Hamlin said. ‘It's tough to say what's considered medical and not.”
It was on Friday, August 29, before the race on Sunday night when Stewart and Brett Frood, the executive vice president at Stewart-Haas Racing spoke to the media prior to practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It was on Friday, August 29, before the race on Sunday night when Stewart and Brett Frood, the executive vice president at Stewart-Haas Racing spoke to the media prior to practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally,” Stewart said to the media looking visibly shaken as his voice quivered. “This is something that will affect my life forever. This is a sadness and pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.”

Stewart went on to explain how the three weeks off helped him deal with the tragedy. “It's given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted,” Stewart said. “I miss my team, my teammates and I miss being back in the race car, and I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.” Stewart also said it was important for him to take the last few weeks off “out of respect” for Kevin and his family and to “cope with the accident” in his own way.

While Stewart is dealing with the tragedy in his own way, an investigation is still ongoing in an effort to analyze evidence in Ontario County, in the juristiction where Ward was hit that authorities say will last for two more weeks to determine if Stewart will be charged with a crime.

During the August 9 sprint-car race in Canandaigua, New York, where the tragedy occurred, Stewart and Ward were seen bumping while racing into a turn which sent Ward’s sprint car spinning into a wall damaging his car. When the 20-year-old race car driver climbed out of his car to motion at Stewart how angry he was, according to the New York Times another race car swerved to keep from hitting Ward, but Stewart struck Ward by the back right tire of his car that on the YouTube video showed him being sucked under Stewart’s car and then sent tumbling across the race track which resulted in his death.

While the media has tried to get a comment from Ward’s family about Stewart’s return, a woman who answered the phone at the home of Kevin Ward Sr. on Friday said the family will not be commenting.