Tony Stewart announces return to Sprint Cup racing

Tony Stewart is coming back to the driver’s seat and not a minute to soon.

Stewart announced on Twitter Thursday morning that he will return to the cockpit of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet this weekend at Richmond. 

The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has been sidelined all season since suffering a burst fracture of the L1 vertebrae on Jan. 31 in an off-road sand rail crash near the Southern California-Arizona border.

Since that time, Stewart has been rehabbing his injury and hoping to get back behind the wheel of his race car as soon as possible.

“As soon as the doctors said they were happy with my scans, I wasn’t going to wait any longer to get back in my racecar,” said Stewart. “I want to make the most of my last season in Sprint Cup, and I’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”

This is Stewart’s final season and like Jeff Gordon last year, he’d love to go out on a high note. His imminent return to the cockpit just might make that possible. 

Last year, Kyle Busch missed the first 11 races of the year with a compound fracture of the lower-right leg and a midfoot fracture of the left foot. When he returned from his injuries, Busch raced his way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, winning four races in the Cup regular season.

Busch then went on to win the championship.

NASCAR already has granted Stewart an injury waiver, as it did with Busch last year. So if Stewart can win a regular-season race and make the top 30 in points, he would be eligible to compete for a championship in his final season. 

Meanwhile, Stewart will take a measured approach getting back into driving.

First he will participate in a Goodyear tire test April 26-27 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Then he’ll practice and qualify his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series’ next event at Talladega Superspeedway. Stewart will start the Talladega race and then turn the car over to Ty Dillon.

“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return,” Stewart said. “Richmond is a track where I feel very comfortable and because it’s a short track, the speeds are substantially less. The Goodyear test in Indy is sort of a controlled environment, allowing me to get more acclimated with my car at higher speeds. 

“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,” Stewart said. “I’ll return fulltime at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can in my final year of Sprint Cup.”