Tony Stewart doesn't plan on finishing the race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, but NASCAR rules could make him a big winner.
Stewart, who missed the first eight races with a broken back and returned to racing last weekend at Richmond, plans to get out of his car at the first caution Sunday because of the increased potential to be involved in a crash in this race. Ty Dillon will be his relief driver and, with the unpredictable nature of restrictor-plate racing, a win isn't out of the question.
NASCAR rules have always credited the initial driver with the result of the relief driver. Most notably in recent years, Aric Almirola was credited with the victory in the Xfinity Series when he started the race but handed off to a late-arriving Denny Hamlin in 2007 at Milwaukee.
A NASCAR spokesman confirmed Tuesday that according to the interpretation of its Chase for the Sprint Cup eligibility rules, if a relief driver is first to cross the finish line, the initial driver can use that win to make the Chase.
Stewart must win a race and be in the top 30 in points after the season's 26th race to make the Chase. As the current points stand, Stewart would need a victory and approximately a finish of 21st in the 16 other races to make the Chase.
NASCAR does have a rule that wins must be unencumbered by rules violations or actions detrimental to the sport in order to count toward the Chase, with the decision at NASCAR's discretion of whether that win will count.
But it has no written rule on relief drivers and the Chase, with the exception that driver changes are not permitted by the four championship-eligible drivers in the season finale.