Did Tony Stewart accomplish his mission in return to seat?

A right-front tire failure forced Tony Stewart to make an early exit from Sunday night's race in Atlanta.

Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

Tony Stewart came back to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway to a standing ovation from the crowd plus being welcomed so warmly by his teammates, crew members and his competitors. It really was great to have Tony back. Literally everybody embraced Tony being back. No matter when Tony was on the track, I swear if I would have closed my eyes, I would have thought it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. out on the racetrack simply from the continued ovation from the fans.

Unfortunately, his night ended early in the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Despite that, I think it was totally "mission accomplished" for Tony and that team getting back on track together. I talked to Tony’s crew chief, Chad Johnston, on Friday in the garage, and he told me they were all simply ready to get back to a normal weekend of racing like they have done a million times before.

The thing I also liked was that Tony came back and was very competitive. He showed a lot of muscle in all three practice sessions. He qualified 12th for the race. Then in the actual race he was awfully competitive until the situation happened with him and Kyle Busch. Honestly, if I had been living in a cave somewhere and not known that Tony had missed the last three races, I never would have known Tony had been gone by the way he practiced, qualified and raced.

We all saw it that when they dropped that green flag Sunday night — Tony Stewart was on a mission. He was picking them up and laying them down. So overall it was good for Tony. It was great for his race team, but more importantly I think it was good for the sport as a whole to have Tony back where he belongs.

VIDEO: Tony Stewart wrecks, heads for garage at Atlanta