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Harvick: 'I'm just happy to have my friend back'

August 29, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com

Stewart-Haas Racing drivers react to Tony Stewart's return

RELATED: Full coverage of Tony Stewart incident

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Normalcy for Tony Stewart may still be months or years away, if it ever comes at all.

But his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates believe his return to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway after his involvement in a tragic accident earlier this month at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park that took the life of fellow sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. is a step in that direction.

While some of the focus surrounding the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will be how he handles once again sitting in the cockpit of the No. 14 Chevrolet for the first time since a 36th-place finish at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 3, his SHR stablemates are more focused on offering their boss -- and more importantly, their friend and teammate -- the emotional support necessary to return his life to some form of regularity.

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"I'm least concerned about the racing side of it," Kevin Harvick said Friday at AMS. "I know for him, that'll be great medicine to have some type of normal activity in his life again that he hasn't been able to have. 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 what will probably end up being the hardest situation he's ever had to go through in his entire life. That to me is the most important thing, and I just can't wait to see him."

Harvick and teammate Danica Patrick haven't spoken to Stewart since the organization announced Thursday that he would make his return to racing, but both are eager to see him around the 1.54-mile speedway. Given that the incident is still so fresh in the minds of everyone involved, it begs the question: Is he ready to return?

"I don't think he'd be here if he didn't feel like he was ready," said Harvick, flanked by a Chevrolet SS pace car painted pink in an effort to raise awareness for the American Cancer Society's fight against breast cancer. "He's got a lot of great people around him and a lot of support."

Patrick agreed that getting back out there is the first step in Stewart's recovery, a completely different and more difficult rehabilitation process than his reformation after a broken leg sidelined him last August and kept him out for the remainder of the 2013 season.

"Obviously, time will tell how it feels to him, but coming back is the first step to seeing that something helps him feel better," said Patrick, in her second year with SHR. "I'm sure being at home and dealing with the thoughts and everything from the tragic accident isn't normal. Something that is a little bit normal, again, I'm sure will be helpful.

"We all want to see Tony back in the car. We want to see him back doing what he loves doing, but there's no timeline on when you work through a tragic accident like he went through, but we're all here for him."

When Patrick says "we're all," it extends to more than just those involved in the SHR organization. NASCAR has long been a large, extended family, especially when it comes to the close-knit community that exists within the garage.

Over the past few weeks, many drivers have offered vocal support of Stewart, embracing their friend and competitor's character and demeanor.

"I think everybody (in the garage) has obviously been concerned and wants to support Tony in every way possible," Harvick said. "It's just everybody has waited to see when this day was going to be and obviously Tony knew when it was time for him to come back to the race track and be a part of getting in the car again. So, we'll support him and hopefully get him running good and have a good weekend.

"I'm excited to have my friend back. I don't really care about the racing side of it. I'm just happy to have my friend back and able to talk to him and hug him and support him. That's the part I'm looking forward to the most."

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