Atlanta (AFP) - Tony Stewart, who has missed three US stock car races since killing a fellow driver in a dirt-track race three weeks ago, will return this weekend, his team announced.
The 43-year-old American racer, a star in the closed-cockpit series that ranks as America's most popular form of auto racing, still has a chance to qualify for the season-ending title chase in the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
"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," said NASCAR vice-president Steve O'Donnell on Thursday.
"NASCAR has remained in constant contact with his race team, and we will stay very close to this situation as Stewart returns to competition."
Stewart makes his return at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway oval. He has not raced since August 3 at the Pocono Raceway tri-oval.
An investigation continues into the circumstances around the death of Kevin Ward, who was killed August 9 in a lower-level race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York state when struck by a car being driven by Stewart, who won the NASCAR 2002, 2005 and 2011 season championships.
After cars driven by Ward and Stewart tangled and Ward's went into the wall, an angry Ward had exited his damaged vehicle and was walking on the track when the right rear section of Stewart's car struck him, dragging him down the track. Ward died of massive blunt trauma.
Police have not made any charges in the incident but their investigation is continuing.
Stewart pulled out of the NASCAR race the next day at Watkins Glen and also skipped races at Michigan International Speedway and Bristol, Tennessee, since the fatal incident.
He ranks 26th in the championship standings and would need a victory in one of the next two races to have a chance to race for the title over the final events of the season.
A waiver from NASCAR would also be needed, as the series requires at least one attempt to qualify for every race from anyone in the championship chase.
In the wake of the dirt-track fatality, NASCAR issued a rule change mandating drivers remain in their cars after a wreck unless their lives are in danger from fire or some other hazard, until safety crews can arrive at the scene. No driver is allowed to walk onto the racing surface.
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