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Stewart’s NASCAR Return Features Highs, Lows

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 31 2014

Tony Stewart got back into a race car this weekend in Atlanta. Things when well and badly. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

HAMPTON, Ga. – On the high banks of the Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday night Tony Stewart showed flashes of the form that led him to three Sprint Cup championships. It was his first competition since the tragic sprint car race three weeks earlier where Kevin Ward, Jr. was killed.

But Stewart, who needed a victory to make this year’s post-season Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, hit the wall shortly after the halfway mark after a blown right front tire.

Before starting 12th, Stewart received an enthusiastic ovation during driver introductions. He catapulted to fourth place shortly after the start by using the high groove. But a slow pit stop lost those positions.

Stewart’s Bass Pro Shops Chevy then was pushed up to the wall and suffered right side damage when Kyle Busch’s Toyota slid high after an attempted pass. Repairs were made, but a blown tire – possibly resulting from a damaged suspension – eventually forced Stewart’s retirement.

Stewart has one race remaining at Richmond to post a victory that would enable him to make the post-season Chase. NASCAR officials have given Stewart a waiver on the rule requiring a driver to start all 26 races prior to the Chase in order to be eligible. Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races since the incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, which ended any chance he had of making the Chase on points.

Adding to a frustrating night for Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick started from the pole and led the most laps in his Jimmy John’s Chevy. But his bid for victory was denied and ended in the wall on the night’s first green-white-checker re-start.

Stewart, who is still awaiting the outcome of an investigation of the sprint car incident by authorities in New York, did not make himself available to either electronic or print media before or after his race. His crew chief, Chad Johnston, spoke to reporters after it was elected to retire the car.

“I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win but it just didn’t work out in our favor,” said Johnston.  “We got into a little trouble with (Kyle Busch) and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage.  We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front.”

Typically, Stewart tersely expressed displeasure with Busch’s error on the radio. But otherwise the incident was over almost as soon as it started and Busch continued to the finish.

During practice, Stewart posted consistent times in his first effort behind the wheel in three weeks and appeared relaxed and at ease when working with his team or circulating among other drivers and crews.

He walked with two other team members to the driver introductions with little fanfare, exchanging several low fives with friends and back slaps. His attitude was in contrast to his distressed appearance when he read a brief statement to the media on Friday and declined to take questions.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 31 2014
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