Early exit for Stewart on return to NASCAR racing

Sun Aug 31, 2014 11:39pm EDT
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ATLANTA (Reuters) - Tony Stewart received a rapturous welcome and made a fast start before making a premature exit on his return to competitive racing on Sunday, three weeks after he struck and killed a young racer at a dirt track in New York.

The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion twice hit the wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the second collision occurring after his right front tire blew out on the 172nd lap, forcing him to quit the 325-lap race.

Stewart, who had missed three NASCAR races since the Aug. 9 accident in which he killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. during a non-NASCAR sprint car race, declined to speak to reporters after driving his battered No. 14 car off the track.

"I wish we could have had a better effort and a better finish for him but we move on to Richmond and see if we can't get it done there," Chad Johnston, Stewart's crew chief, told ESPN television.

The next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will take place at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday when Stewart will continue his bid to claim a spot in the 'Chase' for the trophy.

When Stewart appeared in front of the packed grandstands at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday for drivers' introductions half an hour before the start, he was given a rousing welcome by the fans.

The 43-year-old set off in 12th position as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race began on a steamy evening and worked his way up to fourth place by the 19th lap, just eight seconds off the lead.

But Stewart was struck by Kyle Busch's No. 18 car on lap 122, both machines crashing into the wall, before his tire blew 50 laps later to cause a second collision with the wall and end his night earlier than expected.

"We qualified well, we went into today with some pretty good hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win," said Johnston.   Continued...

Aug 31, 2014; Hampton, GA, USA; The crew of Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) push his car in the garage after Stewart hit the wall during the Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports