Tony Stewart says returning to NASCAR Sprint Cup competition at Atlanta Motor Speedway is part of his recovery process following the sprint car accident that fatally injured Kevin Ward Jr.
Stewart missed three Cup races after his sprint car struck and killed Ward at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York three weeks ago.
The 20-year-old had left his wrecked car and walked across the track to remonstrate with Stewart following an on-track incident.
"This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with both professionally and personally," said Stewart on Friday in his first public appearance since the accident.
"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.
"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 team-mates. 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."
Stewart spoke only from a prepared statement and declined to take questions, citing an ongoing investigation into the crash by police.
The three-time Cup champion also faces the possibility of civil action being launched by Ward's family.
Atlanta marks one of Stewart's two remaining chances to qualify for the Chase, although even if he wins this weekend or at Richmond next weekend he will require dispensation from NASCAR to qualify for the title run-off due to the series' requirement that drivers attempt to qualify for every round.