Tony Stewart can still qualify for NASCAR's Chase for the Cup title playoff despite missing three races after a fatal incident involving a fellow driver, NASCAR President Mike Helton said Friday.
Drivers in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series are required to either qualify or race in all 26 of the series' regular-season races to make the 10-race Chase, but NASCAR can grant a waiver to the requirement.
After evaluating "a very unique set of circumstances" surrounding Stewart, "we've come to the conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot," Helton said.
There are two races left in the regular season: Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the following weekend in Richmond, Va.
Under a revised format implemented this year, a win during the regular season virtually assures a driver a berth in the 16-driver Chase. Stewart, already a three-time Cup champion, does not yet have a win this season.
However, if Stewart were to win one of the next two races, he likely would make the Chase.
Helton spoke to reporters at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where an hour earlier Stewart made his first public appearance since the fatal incident Aug. 9.
During a non-NASCAR, sprint-car race in upstate New York, Stewart was racing side-by-side with Kevin Ward Jr. when Ward's car crashed into a fence. Ward climbed from his car, walked on the track and apparently was angrily pointing at Stewart when he was struck by Stewart's car as Stewart circled back around.
Stewart, 43, has not been charged with any wrongdoing but the office of Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero is investigating, and Povero said Friday that the probe would "continue for at least another two weeks."
Helton was asked what might happen if Stewart ultimately faced any charges. "We made our decisions based on the circumstances that we've got currently," Helton replied.