HAMPTON, Ga. - Tony Stewart's return to the track ended only a little over halfway through his race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stewart hit the wall for the second time after his right front tire blew out on lap 172, ending his night. He drove his battered car to the garage and then exited without speaking to reporters.
His crew chief Chad Johnston said the 14 team was disappointed, but will now start focusing on next weekend's race in Richmond, Virginia.
"I wish we could have had a better effort and a better finish for him," Johnston said. "We'll go on to Richmond and hope we can do better there."
Stewart first went into the wall earlier in Sunday night's race following a collision with Kyle Busch, requiring work to the right side of his car.
"I went into today with some pretty good hopes of finishing well," Johnston said, adding, "It just didn't work out."
When Stewart got to the garage, he stayed in the car while is crew jacked it up and went to work. About five minutes later he climbed out, swigged a bottled water and looked under the hood.
He hung around the for just a few more minutes, but when he realized he was done for the night, he headed through the garage to his hauler parked on the other side. Stewart showed no emotion and didn't say anything as he was trailed by reporters.
The 14 car was loaded onto the hauler and the team was packed up and ready to leave - Stewart wasn't seen again.
Stewart skipped three NASCAR Sprint Cup races after his car struck and killed a fellow driver in a dirt-track race in upstate New York. He decided to return this week, needing to win either at Atlanta or the next race at Richmond to claim a spot in the Chase.
He returned to work as an investigation into the tragic incident that resulted in the death of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., who had stepped on the track to confront Stewart during a race. Authorities said Friday that the probe into the cause of the crash will last at least another two weeks.
No decision has been made about whether Stewart will face charges.
The three-time champion received a big cheer when he was introduced before the race. Starting in the 12th spot, Stewart ran in the top 10 early in the race, getting as high as fourth.
Then, on lap 122 after a restart, Busch's No. 18 machine got loose coming out of turn 2 and banged into Stewart, sending both cars against the wall.
Stewart carried on but dropped back to 21st.
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