NASCAR granted Tony Stewart a waiver to be eligible to qualify for the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Stewart is planning on making his return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, after missing the first eight races of the season due to a back injury in a dune buggy accident that happened in Southern California late in January.
Even with his injury keeping the driver of the #14 Chevrolet on the sidelines, Stewart has been a presence at the track; he has been trying on his hat as the car owner and team mentor a role he will become familiar with after his retirement at the end of the 2016 season. Both Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers have filled his seat in the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
“Tony’s been a great asset,” said Vickers, who filled in for Stewart in five of the past eight races, at Texas Motor Speedway. “How he has stepped into this role as kind of an owner, coach, mentor, whatever you want to call it, has been really impressive. I know it’s hard for him not to be in the car, but I think he is really enjoying it.”
Without the medical waiver NASCAR provided to Stewart, he would not have been eligible for the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup, since he did not attempt to qualify for every race. With the release the work is now on Stewart, he needs to win one race before the regular season ends at Richmond in the fall and he needs to be in the top 30 in the points standings.
“NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President said in a statement. “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.”
Stewart had expected to get the waiver from NASCAR.
“I would assume that it would fall right in line with that,” Stewart said to reporters on Wednesday. “I don’t know why it wouldn’t. I guess it’s not really been on my radar because I just assume that it’s going to be the same criteria to get in. I don’t think there will be much attention unless we win a race. If we win a race, then I think there will.”
Last year, NASCAR granted the waiver to Kyle Busch after he missed the first 11 races because of injuries suffered during the season opening Xfinity race at Daytona. Busch still had to win a race and be in the top-30 in points after the regular season ended in September at Richmond in order to qualify for the Chase. Busch went on to win the Sprint Cup Championship in 2015 and many will look to compare the two drivers.
The new aerodynamic rules package NASCAR implemented this season seems to suit Stewart’s driving style. The cars are looser, harder to handle and more difficult to drive, giving the driver more control able to pass cars with much more ease and that should play into Stewart’s hands who has been among NASCAR’s best for years.
Along with lower down-force package, Goodyear has paired the package with a softer tire that falls off much quicker during the race. Stewart is known for burning out the right rear tire in his early racing days, lending to the nickname ‘Smoke’ next he was known for blowing engines and the nickname stuck, tires may be a factor as Stewart acclimates himself to the 2016 aero package.
With eight races into the 2016 season, Stewart’s farewell tour will begin as he adamantly has stated the decision to retire was his. Stewart said, “I’m not leaving the sport I love. I’m just changing role, which it’s like just moving to a different position in a company.