If Tony Stewart wins Sunday at Atlanta or Sept. 6 at Richmond, he's going to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. That was confirmed by NASCAR President Mike Helton, who said Friday that Stewart would be granted a waiver to remain Chase-eligible if he wins one of the next two races.
Stewart missed races at Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol after he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race in upstate New York three weeks ago.
Before Helton's announcement, Stewart made an emotional three-minute statement about his time away from the track and his return.
Under NASCAR's new format, any driver who wins a race and is in the top 30 in points makes the Chase. However, the driver also has to attempt to qualify for all 26 races before the Chase unless granted a waiver by NASCAR upon the sanctioning body's discretion. Stewart's situation, NASCAR said, is worthy of a waiver.
"After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence, we've come to the conclusion that Tony will be eliglble to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it," Helton said.
When Stewart-Haas Racing announced Stewart's intention to drive Sunday at Atlanta on Thursday, NASCAR said Stewart had been approved for competition.
"Throughout this period of time ... NASCAR has been in constant contact with Stewart-Haas Racing," Helton said. "But when it comes to the assurances that a driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return, we're going to rely on outside experts."
Helton declined to detail the involvement of the outside experts.
Because he missed three races, Stewart is too low in the points standings to get into the Chase via points. (Twelve drivers have won races in 2014, meaning that at least two winless drivers will make the Chase.)
If Stewart wins over the next two weekends, he would fill one of the 16 Chase spots. Last year, when the Chase was set at 12 participants, NASCAR expanded the field to 13 and added Jeff Gordon in the wake of a race manipulation scandal involving Michael Waltrip Racing at Richmond.
Friday, Helton said NASCAR had no plans to expand the Chase to 17 drivers if Stewart won in the next two races.
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