Tony Stewart says death of Kevin Ward will “affect my life forever”

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will return to the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet SS at Atlanta this weekend.

This marks the first time Stewart has raced since an incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York that took the life of Kevin Ward.

“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever,” said Stewart at a Friday press conference. “This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one has to experience in their life. That being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward’s family and friends are experiencing is something that I can’t possibly imagine.”

Stewart currently would not qualify for the NASCAR Chase since he missed a race. NASCAR rules state a driver must attempt to race or qualify every week to qualify for the Chase unless a waiver is granted. Stewart has missed three races.

In 26 starts at Atlanta the veteran driver has three wins and 15 finishes inside the top ten.