Ever since the tragic events that took place early in August at the Canandaigua (NY) Motorsports Park, public opinion has been split on Tony Stewart. Once again, after NASCAR’s announcement Friday that Stewart has been granted an exemption for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, opinion was split. This means if Stewart wins this weekend at Atlanta or next weekend at Richmond, he would be able to run for the championship.
Many drivers and owners applauded NASCAR for the move, some media members and fans then lauded NASCAR for the move. When NASCAR announced prior to the season that exemptions could be allowed the idea was to prevent drivers with injuries from risking further damage by racing. That drivers would not be forced to drive with broken ankles like Brad Keselowski did, cover up a concussion, like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did, or this year allowed Denny Hamlin not to run Fontana with a piece of metal in his eye.
What was not accounted for when the rule was made up was the idea that a driver could be involved in an incident in a non-NASCAR sanctioned event that could result in the death of another driver. There was no playbook for what happened to Tony Stewart, and hopefully we will never have to deal with this type of a situation again.
I’m not sold that Stewart could have raced immediately afterwards at Watkins Glen, but it would have been possible he could have returned to his car soon than a three week absence. In a sign of respect for the parents of Kevin Ward, Jr. and getting his head right after what happened, Stewart sat out three races.
With that in mind, NASCAR made the correct call in allowing Stewart the exemption. The odds of Stewart coming in and capturing the necessary wins are slim, but plausible. I don’t believe he will do it, and it would have been interesting to see how NASCAR handled the situation if Stewart was already locked into the Chase.
The most important part is Stewart is at the track and he can begin to move forward with his life. As Stewart told media on Friday, “I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.” That is very true and once those cars fire up and roll out for the pace laps tonight, for once in three weeks life will be normal for Stewart.