Tony Stewart will return to race at Atlanta this weekend

Three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will return to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Stewart-HaasRacing announced Thursday.

Stewart had missed three consecutive races in NASCAR's premier series since he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York.

After spinning out, Ward exited his race car and was walking down the dirt track under caution when Stewart's car hit him.

Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero said Aug. 12 the investigation into Ward's death would take at least two more weeks. Aspokeswoman for the sheriff's office said Tuesday after the announcement that there was nothing new to report on the status ofthe investigation.

NASCAR implemented a rule formalizing procedure for drivers who are involved in accidents or who are unable to make forwardprogress in their cars in the wake of the incident. Drivers now are required to remain strapped in their cars -- unless they are inimmediate danger from fire or another hazard -- until safety crews arrive and can escort them from the scene. No driver is allowedto walk onto the racing surface.

After SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli said it would be ''business as usual'' at Watkins Glen International, the teamquickly reversed course and said Stewart would sit out. Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith filled in for him there.

Stewart has been in seclusion since the incident. SHR executive vice president Brett Frood said the driver was "grieving. ... It willbe up to Tony when he's ready to get back in the car," when the team announced Jeff Burton as a fill-in before the race at MichiganInternational Speedway.

Burton was behind the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet at Michigan and last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, notching finishes of37th and 15th, respectively.

Sponsor Mobil 1 will have its logos on the car as usual at Atlanta, a spokesman told USA TODAY Sports.

NASCAR's cutoff for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup is Sept. 6 at Richmond International Raceway. Should Stewart return,he would need to win and get a waiver from NASCAR to be eligible (drivers must at least attempt to qualify each weekend).

But as Frood pointed out earlier, the Chase is not a priority for Stewart or the team.

Assuming Stewart doesn't qualify for the playoffs, this will mark the second year in a row NASCAR will be missing one of its starsduring the championship run. Stewart was sidelined for the final 15 races in 2013 after breaking his leg in a sprint car accident. Herequired three surgeries and months of rehabilitation to be able to get back in a Cup car for this year's Daytona 500 in February.

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