Tony Stewart, who has missed the first eight races of the NASCAR season with a broken back, will return to racing this weekend at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Thursday morning in a news release that Stewart, who was injured in a dune-buggy accident in January in California, had been cleared by doctors to drive.
“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,” said Stewart, who will retire as a Cup racer at the end of the season. “I want to make the most of my last season in Sprint Cup, and I’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”
NASCAR immediately granted Stewart a medical waiver, making him eligible to qualify for the Chase.
“NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “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.”
Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, will participate in a tire test next week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will start his No. 14 Chevy at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on March 31, but turn the car over to Ty Dillon for the remainder of the race (Dillon has split time with Brian Vickers as a substitute for Stewart). Stewart will return to full-time racing the following week at Kansas Speedway.
“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 full time at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can in my final year of Sprint Cup.”
Stewart said earlier this week he expected to be granted a medical waiver from NASCAR to make him eligible to compete for the postseason Chase, as long as he wins a race and finishes in the top 30 of the points standings. Rules stipulate a driver must start all 26 races to be eligible for the Chase.
In 2015, Kyle Busch was granted an injury waiver after missing the first 11 races with a broken leg and foot suffered at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Busch went on to qualify for the Chase and eventually won the Cup championship.