(AP Photo/Cheryl Senter, File)

Could Tony Stewart return to race this weekend at Atlanta?


Could Tony Stewart’s three-week absence from NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in light of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy be coming to an end?

A representative for Stewart-Haas Racing told FoxSports.com Thursday morning that any update or announcement on who will drive the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend will not come until at least late this afternoon.

This is somewhat of a change in the way the announcements the last two weeks that Jeff Burton would sub for Stewart have taken place, lending credence that Stewart may very well be ending his self-imposed exile.

Of course, that’s speculation at this point.

There’s also the question about whether Stewart would climb back into his race car before the official investigation into the tragedy is completed.

The Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office told FoxSports.com there are no plans to release either any new information or the final results of its investigation into the incident on Thursday.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the completed report on the results of the investigation could still be released Friday, essentially paving the way for Stewart to get back in his race car, particularly if the investigation does not result in any criminal charges against him.

[ RELATED: Kevin Harvick riled at Tony Stewart portrayal in Kevin Ward Jr.  tragedy ]

Sheriff’s officials said early in the investigation of the August 9 tragedy that they expected the probe to take about two weeks, and we’re in that timeline window now.

Earlier this week, a sheriff’s office spokesman said the probe is in the final stages of “finishing up.”

Given that SHR has not named Burton or another replacement driver to once again fill in for Stewart at this point, it’s conceivable that the longer a status update is delayed by the team, the more likely it would appear Stewart might return.

It also would give the team, NASCAR and AMS officials more time to prepare for the invariable media onslaught and any resulting public statements from Stewart, who has not commented on the tragedy other than a prepared statement that was released the day after Ward was killed during a sprint car race at a dirt track in upstate New York.

In a sense, coming back at Atlanta could be best for Stewart and NASCAR in terms of timing and the invariable distraction and media attention that would result.

[ RELATED: NASCAR America on Tony Stewart’s possible return ]

If he were to wait to return until next week’s race at Richmond, his presence and the expected resulting large media turnout would significantly distract and take away from the race and the finalization of those drivers who will make the expanded 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field.

It’s also unlikely Stewart would delay his return until for the first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway for essentially the same reason.

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.

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Raikkonen learned “pretty much nothing” in Sochi practice

xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 9, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Kimi Raikkonen made no secret of his frustration following practice for the Russian Grand Prix on Friday after losing the majority of the day’s running at the Sochi Autodrom.

A diesel spill on the track ahead of the first free practice session cost the field 30 minutes of running, while heavy rain made much of FP2 a fruitless exercise.

Speaking after Friday’s sessions, Raikkonen admitted that Ferrari had learned very little due to the conditions, but said that the team will try to make the best of the situation.

“Today the weather conditions were not very nice,” Raikkonen said. “We could not get much running and we learned pretty much nothing.

“The first practice was dry, but at the beginning of the session there was an issue with the tarmac surface and they had to wash it away. So we lost time and when we got to the track some parts were still wet.

“In the second session, the weather turned out to be a bit tricky and it rained most of the time. It’s one of those days you do absolutely nothing but that’s how it goes.

“It was not ideal today but it was the same for everybody. Hopefully tomorrow it will be dry, and we’ll see how the tires work. We’ll do our normal program and try to make the best out of it.”

Teammate Sebastian Vettel finished third in FP1 and second in FP2, but thinks he may struggle to find any rhythm ahead of qualifying on Saturday after losing most of today’s running.

“Today we did learn a few things, but nothing that we can really use for the weekend,” Vettel said. “The first impression of the car is good, but I can’t really say a lot more as we really didn’t get enough track action today.

“This morning we couldn’t drive much as some of the corners were covered with diesel fuel, and it took a while to clean it all up. In the afternoon it started raining, but tomorrow and Sunday it is supposed to be dry!

“In general, it won’t be easy to get into the right rhythm, as the track tomorrow will feel the same like yesterday – that is, green and with poor grip. Usually, you use the Friday to lay some rubber down, but that was not possible today.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra this weekend. For full broadcast details, click here.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.