How NASCAR determined Tony Stewart was ready to race again

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HAMPTON, Ga. — Tony Stewart didn’t just wake up Friday morning and decide he was going to return to NASCAR racing.

Rather, NASCAR officials required that Stewart followed procedures and protocols that included him being evaluated by outside professionals.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said the sanctioning body kept in “constant contact” with Stewart-Haas Racing officials during Stewart’s nearly three-week absence and self-imposed seclusion since the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy.

Once NASCAR learned Stewart felt he was ready to go back to racing, he had to be evaluated by several professionals before the sanctioning body would clear him to return to the racetrack.

“The reinstatement process doesn’t begin until the competitor is ready to come back,” Helton said. “That’s what we’ve been through this week.”

MORE: Helton: Tony Stewart still eligible for Chase, but must win to get in

He further explained how the process works:

“As typical, 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.

“… 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.”

When pressed on whether Stewart had to undergo psychological or psychiatric examinations, Helton refused to get into specifics.

“We received the ones that we felt were relevant under the circumstances,” he said.

NASCAR had the option to keep Stewart sidelined until the ongoing police investigation into the tragic accident that claimed the life of young Kevin Ward Jr., but decided to allow Stewart back on the racetrack.

“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.”

MORE: Full transcript of Mike Helton press conference at Atlanta

Once NASCAR was satisfied that Stewart met its protocol to return to the track, he was cleared to race at Atlanta after missing the previous three events at Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol.

“I think particularly those of us that follow this sport every weekend know that driver’s healing processes are unique,” Helton said. “But they are racecar drivers, and a lot of times getting back in a racecar is something they shoot to do as quickly as they can.

“So once Tony decided to come back, we then had to go through the policies and the procedures and the steps that we’ve historically built over time to make the absolute most correct decision we could make under the circumstances we were handed.”

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Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”