The popular hashtag among Tony Stewart fans is #SmokeWillRise. Today, Stewart's fan base will get a glimpse of exactly how far, if at all, the three-time champion will actually rise.

Today's Toyota Owners 400 marks Stewart's first race back behind the wheel of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet since suffering a burst fracture of his L1 vertebrae in a sand rail accident near the Arizona-Southern California border on Jan. 31.

Stewart will be retiring from driving at the end of the year, so this season holds special significance for him, as does finally getting back in the cockpit.

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And like virtually everything else in his career, Stewart's return is, well, complicated.

Wednesday, Stewart went on a mini national media tour, telling a number of outlets, including FS1's NASCAR Race Hub that there was still no timetable for his return.

Thursday morning, Stewart reversed course 180 degrees and announced he would, in fact, be racing at Richmond this weekend.

Thursday afternoon, NASCAR fined Stewart $35,000, presumably for comments he made to USA Today about teams not being required to run all five lug nuts on tires.

NASCAR won't say officially why they fined Stewart.

Thursday night, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Council issued a strongly worded statement denouncing the fine and agreeing to pay it, with all nine Council members splitting it evenly.

Late Friday afternoon at Richmond, after an awkward silence from NASCAR for most of the day, Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller spoke for about six minutes and said NASCAR would indeed re-examine the lug nut issue because the drivers were concerned about it.

Miller gave no timetable for addressing it.

Stewart, meanwhile, has not spoken with the media at Richmond so far.

Which brings us to today.

Last year, Stewart-Haas swept this race, with Kurt Busch winning over Kevin Harvick and again today, those two will be among the favorites.

As for Stewart, he will start a respectable 18th. If he finishes around there or even a little higher, that would an excellent result in his first race back.

Stewart won the first of his 48 career Sprint Cup victories here and in 33 starts at RIR has three victories, 11 top fives, 19 top 10s and an excellent average finish of 12.67.

But ever since suffering multiple compound fractures of the right leg in a sprint car crash in 2013, Stewart has struggled on track. In 69 Cup races over the last two seasons, he has no victories, three top fives and 10 top 10s.

A solid effort today would be encouraging for Stewart and a good way to kick off his abbreviated final season.