After sitting out two consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, the question now is whether Tony Stewart will return for the next race Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Only Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, knows at this point. "It will be up to Tony when he's ready to get back in the car," Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart's team, Stewart-Haas Racing, said last Friday.
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 Park dirt track in upstate New York.
Ward had emerged from his wrecked car, walked on the track and appeared to be angrily pointing at Stewart when he was struck as Stewart's car circled back around. Local authorities are still investigating the incident.
Stewart, 43, skipped the Cup race the next day, in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and did not race Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. His team said Stewart was grieving at an undisclosed location.
It's unknown whether the reputation of the Bristol track — a short, 0.533-mile oval with high-banked corners — for fender-banging action and flared tempers would be a factor in Stewart's decision whether to drive in Saturday night's 500-lap race.
Two years ago the temperamental Stewart got so mad at Matt Kenseth after their cars collided at Bristol that Stewart, standing on pit road, threw his helmet at Kenseth's car as it rolled past him.
Regardless, Stewart might postpone his return until the Ontario County, N.Y., sheriff's office concludes its probe into the fatal incident with Ward. Sheriff Philip Povero said last Tuesday that the investigation would last at least an additional two weeks.
Veteran driver Jeff Burton filled in for Stewart and raced Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet at the Michigan race. Both Burton and Stewart are former winners at Bristol.
After Bristol, the Cup series moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Aug. 31 and then Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Sept. 6.
Richmond is the last of the series' 26 regular-season races. NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Cup title playoff then starts Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway.