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.

โ€œTony 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.โ€

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.

MORE:ย Could 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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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).