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Gordon Expects Stewart To Contend - Times Union

Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart talks to a crew member during practice for Sunday (AP Photo/David Tulis) ORG XMIT: GADT102 Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart talks to a crew member during... Page 1 of 1 Hampton, Ga. Jeff Gordon is expecting Tony Stewart to be a contender in his return to the track. Kevin Harvick will be on the pole but Stewart, who will start 12th, will be in the spotlight in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway . Stewart is competing for the first time since the sprint car he was driving struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. in an Aug. 9 race at a dirt track in upstate New York. Gordon was impressed when Stewart ran close to 190 mph in practice. Stewart was a bit slower in qualifying at 187.907. Still, Gordon said Friday that Stewart "may make quite a return." Gordon and other drivers said the return to racing will provide therapy for Stewart, who was visibly emotional, with his voice breaking, as he read a prepared statement on Friday. "I do think that the best thing for him is to be in that race car," Gordon said. Said Harvick, Stewart's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing: "Being in that car cures a lot of problems for a short time." In his prepared statement, Stewart said he skipped the past three races "out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident in my own way." "It's given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted," Stewart said. "I missed my team, my teammates medicalflights and missed being back in the race car. I think that being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time." Nationwide: Kevin Harvick led the final 159 laps to beat Joey Logano and win an unusually wreck-free race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. Harvick, who will start from the pole Sunday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, took the lead on the 37th lap and ruled the 1.54-mile tri-oval for his third win of the season in 11 races. Kyle Larson , who started second, finished third. Kyle Busch was fourth, and pole-sitter Chase Elliott fifth. There was only one lead change, no crashes and two yellow flags, including one after light rain began to fall on Lap 121. Cars ran 13 laps under caution before the race resumed. Elliott led the first 36 laps. IndyCar: Rookie driver Mikhail Aleshin has been upgraded to stable condition after undergoing a procedure for a chest injury from his horrific crash during a practice session. IndyCar announced Aleshin's improvement Saturday before its season-ending race at Fontana. Aleshin was taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center on Friday night after his car flew and spun into the air in Turn 4 at Fontana.

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