Stewart-Haas Racing announced Thursday that Tony Stewart has been cleared by his doctors and NASCAR to return to racing, effective immediately. Stewart who missed the first eight races of the season will drive the Chevrolet SS fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing throughout this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway.
Stewart sustained a back injury in a non-racing accident on January 31. Stewart suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident. The L1 is the smallest and most superior of the lumbar vertebrae and is located in the lower back. It bears the weight of the upper body. Stewart underwent an operation and extensive rehabilitation. He had an one of several medical evaluations on March 9 and the three-time series champion was cleared to return for his final Sprint Cup season.
“As soon as the doctors said they were happy with my scans, I wasn’t going to wait any longer to get back in my racecar,” said Stewart, who announced last year that he would retire after the 2016 season. “I want to make the most of my last season in Sprint Cup, and I’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”
The team said in an emailed release Thursday that after Richmond, Stewart will take part in a Goodyear tire test April 26-27 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will then practice and qualify his No. 14 Bass Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series’ next event at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. However, Stewart will only start the race before yielding the car to Ty Dillon, who split substitute driving duties this year with Brian Vickers.
“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return,” Stewart said. “Richmond is a track where I feel very comfortable and because it’s a short track, the speeds are substantially less. The Goodyear test in Indy is sort of a controlled environment, allowing me to get more acclimated with my car at higher speeds. We’ll start the Talladega race to get the points, but understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident, we thought it was best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car. I’ll return fulltime at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can in my final year of Sprint Cup.
“I appreciate everyone’s patience and all the support they’ve given me the last couple of months, but the best medicine will come this weekend at Richmond when I finally get to go racing.”
Shortly after the news, NASCAR released a statement. The emailed release confirmed that Stewart has been cleared to race once again and that he has been granted a waiver for the Chase.
“NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. “We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck.”
Richmond will mark Stewart’s 591st career Sprint Cup start. Thirty-three of those starts have come at Richmond, where Stewart has three wins, four second-place finishes, 11 top-fives, 19 top-10s and has led a total of 950 laps. Richmond is where Stewart scored his first career Sprint Cup win on September 11, 1999 when he led 333 of 400 laps.
Late Thursday NASCAR fined Stewart for comments earlier in the week.