Stewart Speaks to Media
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on August 29, 2014 | 1:10 P.M. EST
"This has been one of the toughest tragedies that I’ve ever had to deal with both personally and professionally ... it’s definitely something that will affect my life forever." (Photo: Getty Images)
HAMPTON, Ga. - His voice soft, Tony Stewart read a statement Friday afternoon that expressed sorrow, pain and a message to the family of Kevin Ward Jr., who died after being struck by Stewart’s sprint car during a race Aug. 9.
Stewart’s statement lasted 2 minutes, 30 seconds and marked his first public comments since the accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Stewart left the press conference at Atlanta Motor Speedway, taking no questions as an investigation continues into the accident.
“This has been one of the toughest tragedies that I’ve ever had to deal with both professionally and personally,’’ Stewart said in a labored voice. “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.
“That being said, I know that the pain and 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., his mother, Pam, and his sisters, Christi, Kayla and Katelyn to know that every day I’m thinking about them and praying for them.’’
Stewart struck and killing Kevin Ward Jr. during an Empire Super Sprints race Aug. 9 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. The two had been racing together when Ward’s car bounced off the wall and spun. Ward exited his car and walked down the track, gesturing toward Stewart’s car before he was hit.
An investigation by the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Department continues. The office sent a statement Friday that the investigation would “continue for at least another two weeks.’’ Sheriff Philip Povero said two weeks ago that there had been no evidence of criminal intent at the time.
This weekend marks the first time Stewart will race since that incident. He skipped NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol. Regan Smith filled in for Stewart at Watkins Glen and Jeff Burton did so at Michigan and Bristol.
“I’ve taken the last couple of weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident,’’ said Stewart, who sent flowers and a card to the family for Ward’s service. “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 and 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.’’
Teammate Kevin Harvick said: “I’m glad to see my friend and be able to talk to him and be able to support him through probably what will end up being the hardest situation he’s ever had to go through in his whole life.’’
Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, supported Stewart’s return to racing, calling it part of Stewart’s “healing process.’’
“Tony is ready to be in the racecar,’’ Frood said. “He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.’’
Frood said that it was “100 percent’’ Stewart's decision to return this weekend.
Frood also said that Stewart’s healing process could include time with Ward’s family.
“I do know it will be very important, it’s important to Tony, to spend time with the family,’’ Frood said. “I do believe that will happen in the appropriate time.’’
Stewart also thanked those who have supported him.
“The racing community is a large family, as you guys knows, and everyone is saddened with this tragedy,’’ Stewart said. “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 has been overwhelming.
Stewart ended his statement by saying he could not answer any questions because of the ongoing investigation.
“Emotionally I'm not sure if I could answer them anyway,’’ he said.