NASCAR president Mike Helton: Tony Stewart eligible for the Chase

If Tony Stewart wins either of the final two races in NASCAR’s regular season, he will be eligible to participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, according to NASCAR President Mike Helton.

Speaking at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday, Helton said NASCAR has approved a waiver for Stewart, who missed three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races following his involvement in a fatal crash in a sprint car race Aug. 9. That incident claimed the life of Kevin Ward Jr.

Friday afternoon, the Ontario County (New York) Sheriff’s Office said the investigation into the fatal crash will continue "for at least another two weeks."

Stewart is 26th in points heading into Sunday night’s race at AMS and would need to win there or the following week at Richmond to make the Chase.

NASCAR rules require a driver to participate in all races to qualify for the Chase, but Helton said the sanctioning body invoked its longstanding regulatory loophole — "except in rare instances" — to permit Stewart’s possible participation.

"I’ll remind everybody back earlier this year when we announced the format for the ’14 Chase, that announcement included some responsibility about the routine participation in the season in order to be eligible in the Chase," said Helton. "Along with that importance of routine participation also came the asterisk, so to speak, about except in rare incidents."

Helton then said, "This has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to our sport. As the league, it’s our responsibility to try to make decisions that are correct and right. … After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence, we’ve come to the conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it."

VIDEO: NASCAR president Mike Helton answers questions from the media about Tony Stewart’s return