For the first time since the tragic events earlier this month involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr., Stewart addressed the media. With the emotions written on his sleeve, Stewart read a statement that he had prepared, not taking questions as a result of the ongoing investigation.
“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with both professionally and personally. 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,” Stewart read. “With that being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward’s family and friends are experiencing is something that I can’t possibly imagine. I want Kevin’s father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I’m thinking about them and praying for them.
“The racing community is a large family, as you guys know. Everyone’s saddened with this tragedy. I want to thank all my friends and family for their support through this tough emotional time, and the support from the NASCAR community, my partners, all of our employees, it’s been overwhelming.
“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 teammates. 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.
“I also understand that all of you have many questions and want a lot of answers, however I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time. Emotionally I’m not sure if I could answer them anyway. We’re here to race this weekend, and I appreciate your respect. There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions. Thank you.”
During a sprint car event on August 9th at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, Ward Jr. was spun out by Stewart. He then got out of his car to display his displeasure, when Stewart’s car would make contact with Ward, sending him sliding across the track. Ward Jr. would be transported to hospital, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
Ontario, NY County Sheriff Phillip Povero released a statement saying, “The investigation into the death of Kevin A. Ward Jr., which occurred August 9, 2014, at the Canandaigua, New York Motorsports Park will continue for at least another two weeks. The Ontario County Office of Sheriff has reviewed this investigation, as it has been developed to date, with members of the District Attorney’s Office. The Office of Sheriff will continue to apprise the District Attorney of information as it is developed. When the investigation is completed, the news media will be advised as to what action will be taken. The Ontario County Office of Sheriff thanks all media outlets for their patience and understanding as we continue to thoroughly investigate this tragic crash.”
This weekend marks Stewart’s first time back behind the wheel of his Sprint Cup Series No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet since the incident. Regan Smith drove in place at Watkin’s Glen, with Jeff Burton filling the seat for Michigan International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stewart-Haas Racing Executive Vice President Brett Frood fielded questions today at Atlanta, stating that part of the healing process was Stewart returning to the seat of his racecar.
“That’s part of why he’s in the car,” Frood said. “Besides his mom, his dad, his sister, his niece and nephew, his family is here, it’s at this racetrack. It’s part of the healing process of being with his family that he’s been with since 1999, knowing that these people are going to help him get through this. I think that’s one side of it.
“The other side of it is he’s a racer. We have 270 employees. I think him putting a helmet on will help him cope with this situation.”
Frood added that no doubt it’ll be overwhelming at parts for Stewart with returning to the garage area.
“He’s going to feel an awful lot of support,” Frood added. “As I just mentioned, this is his family. It’s the crew members, it’s the officials, it’s the drivers. It’s his family that he’s been with since 1999. This is going to be part of that process for him. I believe it’s going to be an overwhelming process, this weekend.
“That being said, Tony Stewart is a racecar driver. He’s been a racecar driver for the past 35 years. When he puts that helmet on in practice, I’m quite convinced he’ll be ready to race the car, he’ll be able to separate the two.”