NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart is planning to return to Cup series this weekend for the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. According to a tweet by Stewart Hass Racing the decision was made by Stewart to compete for the first time since the death of Kevin Ward Jr.
Ward died during an on-track incident at a dirt track when he was struck by Stewart’s dirt track sprint car. Ward and Stewart apparently bumped and Ward crashed into the wall. He then exited his car and walked across the track towards the oncoming cars in what appeared to be a move to gesture towards Stewart. The back tire of Stewart’s car struck Ward killing him.
The release notes that it’s the first time that Stewart has raced since he missed the Sprint Cup race at Pocono the day following Ward's death. Since then the No. 14 car has had three substitute drivers including Jeff Burton who has filled in for Stewart twice. Stewart has also not competed in NASCAR Nationwide Series races or any events in his dirt track car since the death of Ward.
Shortly after Stewart Hass Racing broke the news that Stewart would be returning to pilot the No. 14 car at Atlanta, NASCAR released a statement of their own. The statement quotes Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell who says Stewart has been cleared to race.
"Tony Stewart has received all the necessary clearances required to return to all racing activities and therefore is eligible to compete this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” O’Donnell states. “NASCAR has remained in constant contact with his race team and we will stay very close to this situation as Stewart returns to competition."
NASCAR has been very hands off with Stewart since the death of Ward as the race that he was killed during was not a NASCAR sanctioned race. On the other hand NASCAR has reviewed its rules and procedures for drivers to follow when they exit a car following a wreck. Many tracks across the country have also placed new rules for drivers and when they can exit a car.
The Ontario County Police Department in New York State is in the final stages of its investigation, according to a department spokesperson. Officer Nathaniel Ross, the OCPD's Senior Communications Officer, stated that that the investigation was in its final stages but there is no timetable for its completion. When asked if there was a timetable set for ending the investigation Ross simply replied: "Not that I'm aware of."
As far as charges go, the sheriff, Philip Povero, stated that at the time there were no charges currently pending against Stewart nor was there evidence of criminal intent. That’s promising for Stewart as far as official criminal charges go but some reports indicate that the driver may still be open to lawsuits from the Ward family.