Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick glad to have teammate, friend back at track

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HAMPTON, Ga. — The simple act of arriving at Atlanta Motor Speedway – a step Tony Stewart made Friday in returning to NASCAR after a three-race absence — was like a homecoming for his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates.

Danica Patrick, who drives for SHR and spoke to Stewart last weekend, said "It will be good to have him back."

"We'll be all on board to help him with whatever he needs. But he's Tony Stewart, so I'm sure he will be fine. With it being a tragic accident, it's something to work through."

Stewart is scheduled to race in Sunday's Oral-B USA 500 at AMS. He has missed three Sprint Cup races since his sprint car hit and killed Kevin Ward Jr. in a dirt race in upstate New York on Aug. 9.

During a press conference Friday afternoon at the track, Stewart read a 2 minute, 30 second statement that SHR spokesman Mike Arning said had been written by the three-time champion who had been in seclusion since the tragedy.

SHR teammate Kevin Harvick said he was the least concerned about the "racing side" of Stewart's return.

"I know for him that will be great medicine to have some type of normal activity in his life again that he hasn't been able to have," Harvick said. "But, from a personal standpoint, I'm glad to see my friend and be able to talk to him and be able to support him through probably what will be the hardest situation he's had to go through in his whole life. That to me is the most important thing."

The investigation into Ward's death remains open and will continue for at least another two weeks according to a statement released Friday by the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff's Office.

Stewart's return has attracted the attention of national news media that typically devote little time to NASCAR. NBC's morning show Today aired a live report from the track Friday morning.

"I think everybody has obviously been concerned and wants to support Tony in every way possible," Harvick said. "Everybody has waited to see when this day would be. Obviously, Tony knew when it was time for him to come back to the racetrack and be a part of getting in the car again. We'll support him and hopefully get him running again and have a good weekend."

Harvick, who has been critical of media reporting on the Stewart incident, expressed concern about that again Friday morning.

"I think it's very important that our core media obviously understands who Tony Stewart is and the emotions that come with our sport," he said. "As I've watched and been very frustrated through a lot of this, you get outside our core media and the perceptions are tough to see and listen to.

"For me, it's very important for those people to understand that our sport is just like a lot of other sports. There's a lot of emotion involved in what we do. You see those highlight reels of people throwing stuff – in this case Tony throwing stuff, but you get in the heat of the moment and you can make that highlight reel for most of us. It's tough to see and hear the things that are being tossed that way toward him."

Contributing: Jeff Gluck

PHOTOS: Tony Stewart through the years

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