Tony Stewart will be allowed to participate if he qualifies for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR president Mike Helton said Friday.
“This has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to our sport,” Helton said. “… 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.”
Stewart sat out the past three weeks following his involvement in the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward was walking on the track towards the racing surface under caution when the right rear tire of Stewart’s car struck and killed the 20-year-old.
An investigation is continuing and not expected to conclude for “at least” two weeks, the Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff’s office said in a statement Friday.
More on Tony Stewart
More on Tony Stewart
To be Chase eligible, a driver must attempt to qualify or race in all 26 regular season events. Because he did not qualify nor race at Michigan International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, Stewart needed an exemption, which NASCAR can grant in special circumstances. (Stewart qualified for the Aug. 10 race at Watkins Glen but did not race.)
Stewart would need to win Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway or on Sept. 6 at Richmond International Raceway — the final two regular-season races — to make the Chase.
Before clearing him to return NASCAR spoke with unidentified “third-party experts” to assess Stewart’s mental and emotional state. When pressed Helton wouldn’t elaborate on the findings, only saying that the sanctioning body was confident in Stewart’s ability to race.
“Our process calls for us to rely on third party experts to assure us that a NASCAR driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return,” Helton said. “All those forms of processes were met and we cleared him based on those third party inputs from experts.
“NASCAR has been in constant contact with Stewart-Haas Racing. But when it comes to the assurances that a driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return, we’re going to rely on outside experts.”
Although Stewart was competing in a non-NASCAR sanctioned race, Helton wouldn’t say whether Stewart would face any disciplinary action for his involvement in Ward’s death.
“We made our decisions based on the circumstances we’ve got currently,” Helton said.?”And I think most everyone in this room understands at NASCAR, our effort, our scope of responsibility and authority is limited to the NASCAR community.
“We take the current circumstances that we are dealt with and make what we hope to be the best absolute conclusion. That’s what we’re talking about today, is the current set of circumstances and our reaction to them.”
NASCAR clears Tony Stewart to race, grants Chase exemption – SB Nation