Tony Stewart to return to race at Atlanta this weekend

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After missing the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup races following the tragic accident that claimed the life of 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. at an upstate New York dirt track, NASCAR star Tony Stewart will return to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing officials announced that development at 4:30 pm ET in a distributed media release. There were no comments from Stewart in the media release.

NASCAR officials subsequently confirmed the news.

“Tony Stewart has received all necessary clearances required to return to all racing activities, and therefore is eligible to compete this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “NASCAR has remained in constant contact with his race team, and we will stay very close to this situation as Stewart returns to competition.”

Stewart will hold a press conference at 1 pm ET at the AMS infield media center where he is expected to discuss his return and all of the things he has gone through since Ward was killed in an August 9 dirt track race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

Stewart will be joined in the press conference by SHR executive vice president Brett Frood.

MORECould Tony Stewart return to race this weekend at Atlanta?

NASCAR president Mike Helton will also hold a press conference one hour after Stewart’s at 2 pm ET, also in the AMS Media Center. The sanctioning body said in a media release Thursday afternoon that it would have no further comment until Helton’s media session.

The official report on the Ward tragedy has yet to be released by Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff’s investigators, although that is expected to occur soon, perhaps as early as Friday.

Stewart has long and deep ties to Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has been one of his more successful racetracks. In 26 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile, high-speed AMS, Stewart has three wins, 10 top-5 and 15 top-10 finishes.

While NASCAR rules for the expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup require drivers to have qualified for all 26 pre-Chase races and be in the top-30 in points, NASCAR.com reported Thursday afternoon that Stewart, who is 26th in points, could potentially still make the upcoming Chase. About the only way he could do so, though, would be to win at Atlanta or the final pre-Chase race next Saturday at Richmond.

He would also have to petition for and receive a waiver from NASCAR officials, provided he remains in the top 30 in points.

Sunday’s Sprint Cup race will be the first for Stewart since Aug. 3 at Pocono Raceway.

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MRTI: pre-season testing Day 3 notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Day 3 of pre-season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda continue testing for the second day in a row, with each series completing three sessions on what was their final day of running.

Quick reports on both series are below.

Pro Mazda: Cunha Surges to the Front

While Saturday saw Pro Mazda newcomers like Oliver Askew, Parker Thompson, and Rinus VeeKey lead the way, Sunday saw a pair of second-year Pro Mazda drivers take their turns at the top of the speed charts. In the combined results, Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha turned the fastest lap of the final session, also good enough to be the outright fastest lap of the weekend, taking advantage of a fresh set of Cooper Tires to do so.

“I’m really happy, Juncos Racing is an amazing team,” Cunha said of the team’s performance. “On track, we are always improving, never going backwards and that’s very good. We have tested a lot but we still need to learn a lot about the car, though we are almost to a perfect setup. The team has given me everything I need to be comfortable inside the car, to know what the car needs, and to know what I need to be a better driver. We have time to improve and we are moving forward quickly.”

Fellow sophomore driver Sting Ray Robb, now with Team Pelfrey, was right behind Cunha in second.

Combined results across both Saturday and Sunday can be found here.

USF2000: Kirkwood, Cape Motorsports Stay On Top of Deep USF2000 Field

New Cape Motorsports driver Kyle Kirkwood, who topped Session 2 on Saturday, stayed on top of the combined speed charts across the weekend on the strength of his best lap from Session 3 of the weekend on Saturday.

Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh was right behind Kirkwood, on the strength of his quick lap from Session 1.

However, Sunday’s running saw a different driver assert his authority, with Kaylen Frederick, Lindh’s teammate at Pabst, turning the fastest lap during the final session.

Frederick ended up fourth in the combined results, which can be viewed here.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will take to the Homestead-Miami road course on Monday for the final day of testing for the Mazda Road to Indy.

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