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NASCAR grants playoffs eligibility waiver to Tony Stewart

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 30: (L-R) Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, talks to a NASCAR official during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 30, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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Tony Stewart will return to NASCAR this weekend with the knowledge that he can contend for a Sprint Cup championship in his final season.

NASCAR announced Thursday that it would waive the requirement for Stewart to have started all 26 regular-season races to be eligible for its 10-race playoffs.

If the three-time series champion, who missed the first eight races of the 2016 season, can win a race and make the top 30 in points, he would qualify for the 16-driver field of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

NASCAR also granted a waiver last year to Kyle Busch, who won the championship after missing the first 11 races. Stewart told reporters Wednesday that he was expecting to receive a waiver.

Here’s the statement from NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell:

NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities. We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck.