Late Saturday night into Sunday morning the racing world was shook by the news of the death of 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. Ward was struck by the right-rear tire of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart at Canandaigua Motorsports Park Saturday night after exiting his car and moving down the track to admonish Stewart with hand and arm gestures after the two tangled a lap earlier.
On Monday Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that after the completion of Ward's autopsy he said the cause of death was blunt force trauma. Sunday Povero said that at this time Stewart is not facing criminal charges in the incident and that Stewart has been fully cooperative with the investigation. He also stated that the investigation is ongoing and that if evidence comes forth to warrant criminal charges then that could still play out down the road but at this time there are no charges of any nature against Stewart.
Tony Stewart decided to not race in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and Regan Smith drove his No. 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car at Watkins Glen International instead. Stewart released the following statement on Sunday.
"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."
Stewart's name is on the entry list for this coming Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. However, that could end up not being the final outcome if Stewart's decision is not to race again.
"The decision to compete in this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Michigan will be Tony's, and he will have as much time as he needs to make that decision," Stewart-Haas Racing director of communications Mike Arning said in an email to USA TODAY Sports. "It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included. He is grieving, and grief doesn't have a timetable."
Stewart must attempt to qualify for the Pure Michigan 400 or he will lose his chance to gain a spot in the Chase Grid. That though is probably the farthest thing from his mind at this time as he tries to deal with the burden from Saturday's outcome.
The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has already pulled out of a dirt-track race this coming Saturday night at Plymouth Speedway in Indiana. Arning also said that any racing beyond NASCAR would not resume for Stewart until further notice. That comes as a relief to many people who criticize Stewart for racing in these lower division races.
In 2013 Stewart caught the ire of critics for two incidents while dirt track racing. The first oddly enough also occurred at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in July when he triggered a 15-car accident that fractured the back of 19-year-old driver Alysha Ruggles. Then last August Stewart was involved in an accident during a sprint car race in Iowa and suffered a compound fracture to his right leg. Stewart would miss the final 15 races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season before returning for the Daytona 500 to start the 2014 season but he was not even at 100 percent at that time.
Stewart races these extracurricular events because it is what he loves to do. He is a racer and since he does not have a wife or kids at the age of 43 he has the ability to spend his extra time racing wherever he feels like. Many racers understand why he does it and know how much racing means to Stewart.
Whether something criminal ends up coming from the incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr remains to be seen but either way the scar that this has left on Stewart is permanent. It is something he will have to live with every passing day and that will not be easy. The best thing for Stewart will probably be to get back in a race car and race as much as possible. Although it may be time to cut back on the sprint car races drastically.
What can come from the death of Kevin Ward Jr is a new rule across all divisions of racing that can help prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.
Ward's death at least is partially to blame on himself for exiting his car in the heat of the moment and running down the track toward Stewart's car in a reckless manner. ESPN analyst Ricky Craven suggested on Sunday that a new rule be issued not only in NASCAR but across all series of racing that after an accident the driver must remain in their car until safety personnel arrive unless the car is on fire.
This is a great idea and should be something positive that can come from Ward's death. With the extra few seconds to minutes to calm down while the safety crew gets to the car the driver involved in the accident will be able to calm down a little bit and not do something irrational like putting their body in jeopardy. Safety personnel usual stand by and allow a driver to gesture their displeasure at the other driver involved as they pass by under caution but this happens under a controlled condition with officials around to keep the situation in check.
The rule should be applied at all division of racing starting immediately. The penalty for not adhering to the rule should be the deduction of points and a fine so that drivers take the rule seriously.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Kevin Ward Jr as they deal with their incredible loss and also are with Tony Stewart and those close to him as he deals with everything that comes from being involved in a situation so crazy and shocking.
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Tags: Alysha Ruggles, Canandaigua Motorsports Park, Kevin Ward Jr., michigan international speedway, Mike Arning, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Philip Povero, Plymouth Speedway, Pure Michigan 400, Ricky Craven, Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart, Watkins Glen International
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