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Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tony Stewart’s return to racing: ‘I’m sure that’s where he wants to be’

Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

(Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images for NASCAR) Getty Images

HAMPTON, Ga. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the chorus of voices welcoming Tony Stewart back to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Shortly after Kevin Harvick won Saturday night’s Great Clips 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in a JR Motorsports car, Earnhardt spoke in a subdued voice about Stewart and all that has happened since the Aug. 9 incident that claimed the life of young sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

“I just can’t imagine what the situation must be like,” Earnhardt said, “so it’s very difficult for me to comment on it or have an opinion about it because it’s just so overwhelming and so unthinkable.

“To be in his shoes, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to try to come back or try to show up and try to compete.”

But there’s no question Earnhardt is happy to see his good friend back.

“I’m glad he’s back and it’s fun seeing him back out in the car in practice,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt echoed comments made Friday from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon about Stewart’s return.

“One of the things that I did read was Jeff’s comments that Tony belongs at the track,” Earnhardt said. “I can only imagine that being here and being back to work and talking about race cars and working on his car and going through the process of the weekend is probably the best medicine.”

Earnhardt hopes to have an in-depth conversation with Stewart when the time is right, but for now is maintaining a distance and respecting Stewart’s space.

“I saw some quotes from his press conference where he said he’d be affected by this for the rest of his life and he’ll have to carry that to the end,” Earnhardt said. “But, I like him as a competitor and we’ve been friends for many, many years.

“I’m glad he’s back and hopefully he can get back into the groove and get back into the racetrack, have some success and get back to running his race team and doing the things that he thinks he needs to do.

“It’s a hard situation for everybody, the whole sport. But coming back to the racetrack, that’s where I want to be and I’m sure that’s where he wants to be.”

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