With Chase hopes over, rest of season a chance for Tony Stewart to race with reduced spotlight

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Needing a win to make it into the 2014 Chase, Tony Stewart came up short Saturday night at the Federated Auto Parts 400. He ran quietly but consistently to a 15th-place finish at Richmond.

A potential top-10 was thwarted by a miscue on the No. 14 team’s final pit stop. With a missing lug nut on the left rear, Stewart needed to return to the pits a lap later and restarted 15th, where he ultimately finished.

Still, making the Chase was always going to be secondary to resuming on track in his second straight week after returning at Atlanta, and trying to get some semblance of normality back in his life after one of the most trying months of his life in August.

As the rest of the NASCAR season continues, it’s probably for the benefit of the sport – this time around anyway – that Stewart, the driver, isn’t in the Chase.

The investigation into what happened in New York, when Stewart’s car struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., is still ongoing.

Stewart made his first and thus far only public comments upon his return to Atlanta a week ago, and appeared genuinely remorseful and shook up by the experience.

If he was in the Chase, chances are the magnitude of the story could overwhelm the focus on the on-track product; there, Stewart-Haas Racing still has two drivers vying for a championship anyway in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.

The story will still linger until a further resolution or news comes from the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office.

But from an on-track perspective, Stewart can go about his business relatively quietly for the final 10 races, without the added pressure of trying to race for a title, and without the scrutiny that could follow him if he was to do well in the Chase.

If he wins a race in the final 10, that will be a new and different story unto itself.

For a driver who usually stars in the spotlight, avoiding it for the rest of the season by missing the Chase may well be a good thing given the outstanding circumstances.

Alex Zanardi showing signs of interaction three months after crash

Alex Zanardi recovery
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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MILAN — Italian racing driver turned Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi has started responding to treatment with signs of interaction, more than three months after he was seriously injured in a handbike crash.

Zanardi has spent most of that time in intensive care after crashing into an oncoming truck during a relay event near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19.

“For several days now. Alex Zanardi has undergone cognitive and motor rehabilitation sessions, with the administration of visual and acoustic stimuli, to which the patient responds with momentary and initial signs of interaction,” the San Raffaele hospital in Milan said in a statement Thursday.

The hospital said that is “significant progress” but added that his condition remains serious, and that it would be “absolutely premature” to make a long-term prognosis.

Zanardi, 53, suffered serious facial and cranial trauma in the crash and was put in a medically induced coma. Doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

He was operated on several times to stabilize him and reconstruct his severely damaged face and the Milan hospital added that he recently had undergone another surgery to reconstruct his skull and would have another one in the coming weeks.

Zanardi lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.