NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR driver Tony Stewart to return to track in Atlanta

NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who has not raced since an Aug. 9 incident that resulted in the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr., will compete this weekend in the Sprint Cup Oral-B 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced the move in a news release Thursday afternoon.

NASCAR Senior Vice President Steve O’Donnell, in a separate news release, said: “Tony Stewart has received all necessary clearances required to return to all racing activities.”

Wednesday, a spokeswoman with the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office told the Observer that the investigation to determine whether Stewart would be charged in the incident was on-going, with no timetable for its completion.

It was just more than two weeks ago that Sheriff Philip Povero said it would be “two weeks or more” before the investigation would be concluded. The resolution will be released by the sheriff’s office, or jointly with the district attorney’s office, the spokeswoman said this week.

During a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, a car driven by Stewart struck and killed Ward, a 20-year-old driver from Port Leyden, N.Y., who was standing on the track while the race was under caution.

Racing toward a turn on the half-mile dirt track, Stewart’s car slid into Ward’s, whose car spun and hit the wall. The race was placed under caution. Ward left his car, stepped quickly toward the infield and stood in the middle of the track as cars passed and dodged him. Ward pointed in what appeared to be an accusatory way toward Stewart’s car coming toward him.

As Stewart approached Ward, his car appeared to speed up. Then, 25 seconds after the crash, the right side of Stewart’s car hit Ward, knocking him several yards down the track. Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at F.F. Thompson Hospital.

Stewart has not raced since, missing Sprint Cup events at Watkins Glen, N.Y., Brooklyn, Mich., and Bristol, Tenn. He has also not spoken with the media about the incident.

He is scheduled to address the media at 1 p.m. Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Six days after Ward died, NASCAR adopted a rule banning drivers involved in wrecks from climbing out of their cars and walking onto the track.

Previously, NASCAR had not consistently penalized drivers who stormed onto tracks during races. NASCAR officials say they had discouraged drivers from the practice, and included it in a video that is shown during the pre-race drivers meeting.

Qualifying for Sunday’s race in Hampton, Ga., is Friday at 7:15 p.m. The race is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday and will be televised on ESPN.