NASCAR’s Tony Stewart pulls out of Sunday race after hitting, killing driver

Source: Associated Press

Tony Stewart pulled out of the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen Sunday, 12 hours after the three-time champion struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the darkened dirt track trying to confront Stewart during a race at upstate New York’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

Kevin Ward Jr. had crashed following contact with Stewart one lap earlier and got out of his car as it was stopped along the fence. Video of the incident showed Ward walking from his crashed car onto the racing surface as cars circled by, and, as he gestured at Stewart’s passing car, he was struck.

Authorities questioned Stewart but said no criminal charges were imminent. Stewart travelled to Watkins Glen International following police questioning.

Stewart released a statement Sunday afternoon that read as follows: “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”

Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said at a news conference that Stewart “feels strongly” about not racing Sunday following Kevin Ward Jr.’s fatal accident. The decision was an about-face for the organization, which had previously said that Stewart would race on Sunday.

“We gave Tony some time to sleep on it. He feels strongly this is the right thing to do,” Zipadelli said. “All you can do is what you feel is right, and we feel this is right. We get through today and do it the best we can as a group.

A witness said it appeared Ward was trying to confront Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. The video showed Ward standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to kick out from the rear and hit him.

Moments earlier, Ward and Stewart were racing side-by-side for position as they exited a turn. Ward was on the outside when Stewart, on the bottom, seemed to slide toward Ward’s car and crowd him toward the wall. The rear tire of Stewart’s car appeared to clip the front tire of Ward’s car, and Ward spun into the fence.

Ward, who was wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, had walked into the racing area and one car swerved to avoid him before he was struck by Stewart.

“The next thing I could see, I didn’t see (the other driver) anymore,” witness Michael Messerly said. “It just seemed like he was suddenly gone.”

A spokesman for Stewart’s racing team called Ward’s death a “tragic accident.”

The dirt track located about 30 miles southeast of Rochester cancelled the remainder of the race and later posted a message on its Facebook page encouraging fans to “pray for the entire racing community of fans, drivers, and families.”

Ward’s website says he began racing go-karts in 1998 at age 4, but didn’t start driving sprint cars until 2010. The 20-year-old from Port Leyden, New York, was Empire Super Sprint rookie of the year in 2012 and this year was his fifth season racing the Empire Super Sprints.

Stewart often competes in extracurricular events like the race on Saturday. The multimillionaire is known to participate in races with purses worth less than $3,000 and drive alongside drivers of varying ages and talent levels.

“Everybody has hobbies. Everybody has stuff they like to do when they have downtime, and that’s just what it is for me,” he said last month following his return to sprint car racing. “That’s what I like to do when I have extra time. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing it. I feel like there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that.”

He’s struggled a bit this year since returning from his leg injury, and heads into Sunday’s race winless on the season and ranked 19th in the standings.

The site of Saturday night’s crash is the same track where Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.

Should big name race drivers be allowed to race Sprint Cars?

If you are a NASCAR fan you have likely seen the controversy in the news over the past month about three-time NASCAR champion and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing Tony Stewart getting into several wild crashes during his side job Sprint car racing.

Tony Stewart racing at Susquehanna Speedway Park Sunday, April 14, 2013.  Photo courtesy of Anthony DeSeta

Tony Stewart racing at Susquehanna Speedway Park Sunday, April 14, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Anthony DeSeta

Read the Star’s Norris McDonald’s blog post from the end of July about this very topic after Tony’s crash at Ohsweken Speedway near Brantford, Ontario.

Well, as irony would have it, just as the dust was starting to settle on this controversy, it has been reported today that Tony Stewart has broken both tibia and fibula in his right leg in a crash at Southern Iowa Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Reports state that Stewart was transported to an area hospital after the accident, and immediately underwent surgery.

Unfortunately, as a result of this latest accident, Tony will not be driving the number 14 car this weekend in Watkins Glen, New York and according to Stewart-Haas Racing, a replacement driver for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International has not yet been determined. Currently, Stewart is 11th in the standings, and with one victory this season, leads the race for the first Wild Card in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It’s too early to know when Tony will be returning to racing but for sure he will be out a while so we of course wish him a speedy recovery.

But let’s get back to the debate of today’s post. What are your thoughts about big name racers like Tony Stewart racing in other series at which they risk serious injury and/or time away from their main sport?

Please let us know your thoughts as we are interested to see what people think about this one.