BREAKING: Tony Stewart to Return This Weekend in Richmond

It may be sooner than anybody – even he himself – expected, but three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is returning to the cockpit of the No. 14 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, according to the driver via Twitter Thursday morning.

Yes, Smoke has risen once again and defied the odds. He has been sidelined all season since suffering a burst fracture of the L1 vertebrae (back) on January 31 in an off-road racing incident in Southern California.

Stewart gave an update on NASCAR Race Hub Wednesday, saying that he would return to the car whenever doctors allowed him to. Little did fans – or Stewart – know that he would be cleared the next morning and be ready to return to racing.

It was predicted that Stewart would not return until around the All-Star break this summer, but that is obviously not the case anymore. The 2016 season will be Stewart’s final of his career, as he announced before the 2016 campaign began.

A couple hours after the announcement, Stewart also announced that he would return to full-time racing 100 percent on May 7 at Kansas Speedway, two weeks from now. This makes sense, as after Richmond this weekend is Talladega, where the chance of a big crash happening is increased dramatically. Stewart will practice, qualify and start the race, but will be replaced by Ty Dillon at the first available time to do so in that race two weeks from now.

His case is similar to Kyle Busch’s situation from the 2015 season. Busch missed the first eleven races of the campaign due to foot and leg injuries. He was granted a Chase waiver, qualified for the playoffs, and ultimately ended up winning the championship.

Stewart will presumably receive the same waiver from NASCAR after only missing eight races. However, Busch returned to Joe Gibbs Racing equipment, the dominant team in the NASCAR garage. Stewart is in good equipment, one of the “Big 4” teams, as well. However, his performance the past four seasons has been the worst stretch of his career.

Be on the lookout for a race preview for this weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway, as well as the Victory Lane podcast, looming more in depth at Stewart’s return, all at Impact Sports.