Tony Stewart will make his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series racing this weekend at Richmond International Raceway after missing the first eight races of the 2016 Sprint Cup season with a broken back.
Stewart, who is set to retire following the season, suffered a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra during a dune buggy incident on January 31 after a hard landing that included a 20 to 25 foot drop in Southern California. Stewart said he was only driving about 5 mph at the time.
The announcement was made by the three-time Sprint Cup champion via Twitter with a tweet Thursday morning. “The Dr’s said my scans ‘looked much better than they thought they would after 3 months’. So they cleared me,” tweeted Stewart.
Stewart has been a fixture at the NASCAR Sprint Cup races and he says he feels ‘great’ and is able to do everything he wants to do on a day-to-day basis which includes driving passenger car and operating heavy machinery on his Indiana ranch. Because of the risk of re-injury, Stewart had to wait for his back to heal, before returning to the #14 Chevrolet.
Currently Stewart has plans to compete at Richmond in its entirety, but the team plans to have Ty Dillon at the track for the race Sunday as a standby driver in the event that Stewart would have a problem in the racecar. Dillon and Brian Vickers have shared driving duties for the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet since the beginning of the season.
While Stewart plans to race this weekend at the ¾ mile short track at Richmond, he does admit that he is not planning to race the full event the following weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Stewart will start the race at the high-banked, fast paced 2.66 mile superspeedway, before Dillon will take over the wheel for the remainder of the race.
“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return,” Stewart released in a statement. “Richmond is a track where I feel very comfortable and because it’s a short track, the speeds are substantially less…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 (Speedway, the following week) and enjoy every moment I can in my final year of Sprint Cup.”
Stewart does plan to participate in a Goodyear tire test next Tuesday and Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after his weekend at Richmond as he said in the statement, “The Goodyear test in Indy is sort of a controlled environment, allowing me to get more acclimated with my car at higher speeds.”
“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.”