Tony Stewart will compete in this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his first race since his involvement in the fatal regional racing accident at New York State's Canandaigua Motorsports Park that claimed the life of fellow competitor Kevin Ward Jr.
This weekend's race will mark Stewart's first start since August 3 at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. His place behind the wheel of the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was taken at short notice by Regan Smith at Watkins Glen International, and since then by Jeff Burton at Michigan and Bristol.
No further details were given by the team on Thursday, but it was announced that a press conference will be held on Friday in which Stewart and SHR executive vice president Brett Frood will take questions from the media. It will mark Stewart's first public appearance since the accident.
After the team confirmed that Stewart would be back in action this weekend, NASCAR also issued a statement confirming that there were no problems as far as they were concerned with his taking part in this weekend's event.
"Tony 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's 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," he added.
NASCAR will also hold a press conference at Atlanta on Friday afternoon. Among the questions likely to be raised is whether the series will grant Stewart a waiver on the Chase eligibility requirement that a driver must attempt to qualify or to compete in all 26 races prior to the Chase cut-off which falls after next week's Richmond event on September 5.
As Stewart has missed two full race weekends since the accident at Canandaigua he would not currently be able to participate in the Chase even if he were to win either of the two remaining races. Even with a waiver, Stewart is currently in 26th place on the points meaning that a win is his only hope of making the championship play-offs, and he would also need to finish no lower than 30th in the standings after Richmond.
The official investigation into the circumstances surrounding Ward's death is still being carried out by local authorities. NASCAR has introduced new rules covering driver safety since the accident, which happened in a sprint car dirt track racing event that was not part of NASCAR's jurisdiction.