|NASCAR's Mike Helton|
Tony Stewart is back behind the wheel today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and if he can somehow find his way to Victory Lane Sunday night, he will compete for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship.
NASCAR President Mike Helton confirmed today that the sanctioning body will extend an exemption to Stewart, allowing him to race for the title despite sitting out the last three races following an incident in a Sprint Car race that took the life of driver Kevin Ward, Jr.
NASCAR President Mike Helton explained that decision today, saying, “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.
“Sometimes we evaluate circumstances that are given us and then make those decisions as correctly as we can.”
Helton declined to provide specifics on what medical and/or psychological treatment Stewart may have received in the last three weeks, saying the sanctioning body relied on “third-party experts to assure us that a NASCAR driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return. All those forms of processes were met and we cleared him based on those third-party inputs from experts.”
He also said the sanctioning body is unlikely to assess any penalty or sanction based on the findings of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Ontario County (NY) Sheriff’s office, saying, “our effort, our scope of responsibility and authority is limited to the NASCAR community.”
Ontario County Sheriff Phillip Povero issued a written statement today saying that his department’s investigation into Ward’s death will continue “for at least another two weeks,” adding that his office, “will continue to apprise the District Attorney of information as it is developed. When the investigation is completed, the news media will be advised as to what action will be taken. The Ontario County Office of Sheriff thanks all media outlets for their patience and understanding as we continue to thoroughly investigate this tragic crash.”
Stewart spoke to the media today for the first time since the Aug. 9 incident, calling the incident, “one of the toughest tragedies I have ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally” and adding “this is something that will definitely affect my life forever.”