NASCAR is waiting to see if Tony Stewart will return to the Sprint Cup Series this weekend in Atlanta or sit out his fourth consecutive race.
Stewart has been in isolation since his car struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. while Ward was on foot during a sprint-car race Aug. 9 at the Canandaigua Motorsports dirt track in upstate New York.
Stewart, 43, then skipped the Cup races at Watkins Glen, N.Y., Michigan International Speedway and Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
When Stewart plans to return is anyone’s guess. Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR team Stewart co-owns, has said it’s entirely up to the three-time Cup champion to decide when he wants to get back behind the wheel of his No. 14 Chevrolet.
Veteran Jeff Burton has driven Stewart’s car the last two races, after Regan Smith filled in at Watkins Glen.
The Cup series heads this weekend to Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., a 1.5-mile oval where Stewart has won three times, most recently in 2010. This year’s Oral-B USA 500 is Sunday.
If Stewart sits out the Atlanta race, the next race is Sept. 6 in Richmond, Va., which already will be under a bright spotlight. Richmond is the last race of the Cup series’ regular season and thus the last opportunity for drivers to qualify for NASCAR’s 10-race Chase for the Cup title playoff.
There’s also speculation that Stewart might be waiting for the results of an investigation into the fatal incident by the office of Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero. Povero said Aug. 12 that the probe would take at least two weeks.
The fatal incident began when Stewart and Ward were racing side-by-side and Ward’s car crashed into a fence. Ward then climbed from his car, walked on the track and appeared to be angrily pointing at Stewart when he was struck as Stewart’s car came back around.
A graphic amateur video captured the incident and sparked a nationwide debate about which driver might have been at fault.