Tony Stewart Returns To Racing For The First Time Since Kevin Wa - New York News

Tony Stewart Returns To Racing For The First Time Since Kevin Ward, Jr.'s death

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ATLANTA -

Tony Stewart returned to the driver's seat of his No. 14 Sprint Cup car at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. The 43-year-old made it a point to address the media before he started practice Friday afternoon.

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

Stewart has been absent from the track since an Aug. 9 incident during a sprint car race Stewart competed in at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Canandaigua, New York. Driver Kevin Ward, Jr. had climbed from his car following an accident and was walking on track as the other cars slowed for the caution. Ward was struck by Stewart's car and died later that night.

“I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them,” Stewart added. “I've taken the last couple weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family, and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It's given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates. I miss being back in the racecar. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.”

NASCAR President Mike Helton met with media less than an hour after Stewart made his statement.

“I do want to join everybody else in the garage area in welcoming Tony back,” said Helton. “He's been a great asset to NASCAR. He's been a great champion, a great participant in our sport, so it's nice to have him back.”

Helton confirmed that if Stewart made his way into The Chase for the Championship, NASCAR would deem him eligible.

“I'll remind everybody back earlier this year when we announced the format for the '14 Chase, that announcement included some responsibility about the routine participation in the season in order to be eligible in the Chase,” said Helton. “Along with that importance of routine participation also came the asterisk, so to speak, about accepting rare incidents. This has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to our sport. As the league, it's our responsibility to try to make decisions that are correct and right. Sometimes we evaluate circumstances that are given us and then make those decisions as correctly as we can.

“After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence, we've come to the conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it.”

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