Reception good but result bad for Tony Stewart in NASCAR return

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Tony Stewart walks out during introductions prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Atlanta.

ATLANTA – The usually over-enthusiastic introduction by the track’s public address announcer was there just as it has been since he joined NASCAR in 1999.

But on a night like no other in the decorated career of Tony Stewart, the reception was different that it may have been before.

It actually featured more cheers than would have been there before.

When the driver was introduced during his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race since his Sprint Car hit and killed 20-year old Kevin Ward Junior on August 9th in New York, the crowd at the Atlanta Motor Speedway greeted Stewart with a loud standing ovation.

It was the loudest for any driver that crossed the stage before the Oral-B USA 500 on Sunday night as the driver returned to action for the first time since the Pocono race in late July.

If only the result could have been just as good for the Columbus, IN native.

After an early surge that put him into the top five, Stewart’s day ended prematurely when a cut tire on Lap 172 sent him into the wall and out of the race. His No. 14 car wouldn’t return as he finished 41st.

This now means that Stewart has to win at Richmond next week or he will miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup for a second-straight season. Typically Stewart’s absence from qualifying the last two races would mean he is disqualified from chase competition since that is a stipulation for making NASCAR’s championship round.

Due to the circumstances surrounding Stewart, however, NASCAR president Mike Helton announced that the sanctioning body would use its exemption to allow the driver to make the chase should he get a victory and finish in the Top 30 in points.