After several weeks of mourning and reflection, Tony Stewart went back to work.
Following an emotional press conference this morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion turned the 10th-fastest time in today’s first Sprint Cup practice session.
Stewart logged a total of 25 laps in the session, and set his fastest lap – with a speed of 189.642 mph – on his final circuit around the 1.5-mile oval.
It’s a much-needed solid start to the weekend for Stewart and his No. 14 team, which have been declared eligible to compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup should Stewart win Sunday at Atlanta or in next Saturday’s regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
Stewart has not raced at Atlanta since 2012, as he was unable to compete in last year’s race there due to him recovering from his season-ending leg injury.
Today’s first practice was paced by Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards and his lap of 192.855 mph in the No. 99 Ford Fusion. That lap was almost two-tenths of a second quicker than the best lap from Ryan Newman (191.628 mph), who was second on the time sheets for Richard Childress Racing.
Another Ford driver, Marcos Ambrose of Richard Petty Motorsports, was third-fastest in the session (191.417 mph). Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth (191.199 mph), and rookie Kyle Larson was fifth (191.113 mph).
Making up Positions 6-10 were Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, and Stewart.
Other notables were: Jimmie Johnson in 13th, Jeff Gordon in 14th, Danica Patrick in 22nd, Matt Kenseth in 25th, Bristol winner Joey Logano in 26th, and Nationwide Series regular Ty Dillon in 27th. Dillon is making his debut Cup start this weekend.