By AMANDA VINCENT
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship driver and two-time Cup championship car owner, Tony Stewart, has been cleared to climb back into his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, effective immediately, according to a press release Thursday from SHR. As a result, he’s expected to be behind the wheel of the No. 14 for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
“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 race car,” Stewart said. “I want to make the most of my last season in Sprint Cup, and I’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”
Stewart, who announced last fall that 2016 would be his last as a Sprint Cup driver, missed the first eight races of the 2016 season as a result of a back injury sustained in an all-terrain vehicle accident in late January. Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers have been sharing driving duties behind the wheel of the No. 14 in Stewart’s absence.
Stewart plans a somewhat gradual return to Sprint Cup action. After the Richmond race weekend, he’ll participate in a Goodyear tire test at his home track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway April 26 and 27. He’ll then practice and qualify the car at Talladega (Ala.) Motor Speedway and start the race on May 1, but Ty Dillon will complete the Talladega race after Stewart climbs out of the car at the first opportunity. Stewart expects to return to full-time competition for the May 7 race at Kansas Speedway.
“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return,” Stewart said. “Richmond is a rack 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.”
NASCAR also announced on Thursday that Stewart has been granted a waiver to attempt to make the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason. The waiver waives the requirement of attempting to qualify for all 26 regular-season races. To make the Chase, Stewart still will need to win at least one race and get himself inside the top-30 of the points standings by the cut-off at the conclusion of race 26 at Richmond in September.
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