Tony Stewart will return to Sprint Cup at Richmond, NASCAR grants him Chase waiver

Image courtesy of @MonteDutton.
Image courtesy of @MonteDutton.

Image courtesy of @MonteDutton.

Smoke is back.

After months of waiting, Tony Stewart fans will finally see their favorite driver return to the track this weekend at Richmond. Stewart announced the decision Twitter on Thursday morning.

“As soon as the doctors said they were happy with my scans, I wasn’t going to wait any longer to get back in my racecar,” Stewart said in a SHR release. “I want to make the most of my last season in Sprint Cup, and I’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”

Prior to the Daytona 500, the No. 14 SHR driver and co-owner L1 vertebra burst fracture sustained in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. It was a huge blow to NASCAR after Stewart announced he was set for his final season.

Rumors swirled that Smoke might not be back until the All-Star Race similar to Kyle Busch last year. But as Stewart divulged on Thursday, his recovery was quicker than originally expected.

Stewart has ambitions to start every race this season, with one caveat. He will hand the reigns over to Ty Dillon, who split time with Brian Vickers in the car while Stewart was out, at Talladega Superspeedway.

“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return,” Stewart said. “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 fulltime 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.”

Following the news that Stewart will return, NASCAR announced he will receive a Chase waiver for the 2016 season. In order to qualify, he will need a win and to make his way into the top 30 in the points standings.

“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. “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.”


Dale Earnhardt Jr. also weighed in on the matter.


Richmond is always a fun race, but this Sunday will now have even more intrigue. With three career wins at the track for Stewart and Vickers already tallying a top-10 finish for the No. 14 team at Martinsville earlier this month, Smoke fans finally get to see the swan song begin.


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