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Stewart set to return to racing at Atlanta

<p>After missing the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, Tony Stewart is expected to return to competition this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.</p>

Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - After missing the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, Tony Stewart is expected to return to competition this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing made the announcement of Stewart's return on Thursday. A press conference involving Stewart and SHR executive vice president Brett Frood has been scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m. ET.

Stewart, a three-time champion in NASCAR's premier series, skipped Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol while he was in seclusion following his involvement in a fatal accident on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. He struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race.

The incident occurred during a caution when Ward climbed out of his car and then walked down the dirt track, pointing his finger in the direction of Stewart and apparently yelling at him to express his displeasure. The right rear of Stewart's car hit Ward and dragged him briefly across the track.

The caution came when Stewart and Ward made contact while battling for position, with Ward spinning out and hitting the wall.

Currently, there are no criminal charges pending against Stewart. The investigation regarding Ward's death is still ongoing. Ward died from massive blunt trauma.

Atlanta will mark Stewart's first Sprint Cup start since Aug. 3 at Pocono. He is currently 26th in the point standings and has yet to win a race this season. Atlanta (Aug. 31) and Richmond (Sept. 6) are the two remaining races during the regular season. The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland.

Regan Smith substituted for Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet at Watkins Glen, while Jeff Burton filled in for him at Michigan and Bristol.

NASCAR released a statement on Thursday in regards to Stewart's return.

"Tony Stewart has received all necessary clearances required to return to all racing activities, and therefore is eligible to compete this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway," NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell said in the statement. "NASCAR has remained in constant contact with his race team, and we will stay very close to this situation as Stewart returns to competition."

NASCAR president Mike Helton is scheduled to participate in press conference on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

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