For the first time since he was involved in an accident that killed a fellow race car driver, Tony Stewart addressed the media. He read only from a prepared statement and did not answer any questions. But he did publicly offer his condolences to the family of Kevin Ward Jr.

“I want them to know I'm thinking about them and praying for them," said Stewart.

Stewart appeared emotional as he read from the statement. The three time Sprint Cup Series Champion has not raced since the August 9th accident, sitting out three NASCAR events. He will return to the track at Sunday night’s race in Atlanta.

''This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally. This will affect my life forever," said Stewart. "This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life," 

NASCAR says Stewart has received all the “necessary clearances” a driver needs to the track. NASCAR president Mike Helton says that is standard procedure when a driver has been away from the track for a long period of time.

“Our process calls for us to rely on third party experts to assure us that a NASCAR driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return,” said Helton. “All those forms and processes were met and we cleared him, based on that third party input from experts.

When asked to expand on what experts were involved in clearing Stewart, Helton would only say the “ones that were relevant.”

When asked if Stewart might face any disciplinary action from NASCAR is charges were eventually files, Helton said that NASCAR is making decisions based on what they know right now.

“We made our decision based on the circumstances that we’ve got currently,” said Helton. “I think everyone in this room realizes our authority is limited to the NASCAR community.”

Reports from New York say that it may be two more weeks before the investigation into the accident is complete.

Since Stewart has missed three weeks of racing, some had asked if Stewart would be eligible for the Chase because of the sports new rule that you must attempt every race to make it’s post season. Helton said Stewart would be granted a waiver.

“These are a unique set of circumstances for Tony and the sport,” said Helton.” After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence we’ve come to conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it.”

Here is Stewart’s prepared statement in its entirety:

This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with both professionally and personally.  This is something that will definitely affect my life forever.  This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.

With that being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine.

I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them.

The racing community is a large family, as you guys know.  Everyone's saddened with this tragedy.

I want to thank all my friends and family for their support through this tough emotional time, and the support from the NASCAR community, my partners, all of our employees, it's been overwhelming.

I've taken the last couple weeks off 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.

I miss my team, my teammates.  I miss being back in the racecar.  I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.

I also understand that all of you have many questions and want a lot of answers, however I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time.  Emotionally I'm not sure if I could answer them anyway.

We're here to race this weekend, and I appreciate your respect.  There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions.  Thank you.