Tony Stewart expecting to gain a waiver to qualify for the playoffs like Kyle Busch

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While Tony Stewart’s playoff eligibility hasn’t been announced by NASCAR, the three-time champion is expecting to be granted a waiver just as defending champion Kyle Busch was last year.

“I would assume it would fall right in line with it, “ Stewart, who announced Thursday he would return to the No. 14 Chevrolet this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, told reporters in a Wednesday interview. “It’s not really been on my radar because I’ve assumed it’s going to be the same criteria to get in (as Busch).”

Stewart said he wasn’t sure if there’d been a conversation with NASCAR about the waiver, but he suggested Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood probably had broached the topic with executives from the sanctioning body.

A request for comment from SHR wasn’t immediately returned Thursday. A NASCAR spokesman told NBC Sports that the waiver discussion would happen “as soon as needed” but said there was nothing to report yet.

In order to be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a driver must start all 26 races in the regular season, but NASCAR has made multiple exceptions, most recently for last season for Busch after he was suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot in the Xfinity series opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch missed the first 11 races and then returned to qualify for the Chase with four regular-season wins. He also made the top 30 in points – which is a non-negotiable requirement of making the playoffs.

NASCAR granted a Chase waiver in 2014 to Stewart, who missed three races while grieving over the death of Kevin Ward Jr. Teammate Kurt Busch also received a waiver and made the Chase in 2015 after missing three races because of domestic violence allegations that didn’t result in criminal charges.

Stewart missed the first eight races of the 2016 season with a fractured back.