Tony Stewart is grieving at an undisclosed location in the aftermath of the incident in which 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. was struck and killed by Stewart’s race car, Stewart’s team said Friday.
“It’s been an emotional week for (Stewart),” Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, told a news conference at Michigan International Speedway.
Stewart opted not to race at Michigan this weekend; he also missed the prior NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Stewart “made the decision he’s not ready to get in the race car and will take it week by week,” Frood said. “It will be up to Tony when he’s ready to get back in the car.
“It was a tragic accident and he’s dealing with quite a bit of grief,” Frood said, adding that Stewart “is surrounded right now by his closest friends and family. His location is of a private nature.”
Frood also said “right now the focus of everyone should be on the (Ward) family that’s grieving.”
During a non-NASCAR, sprint-car race at a small dirt track in upstate New York on Saturday, Ward emerged from his wrecked car, stood on the track and, while apparently gesturing toward Stewart, was hit by Stewart’s car.
An amateur video of the incident available on the Internet has sparked widespread public debate about who might have been at fault in Ward’s death.
Stewart has not been charged with any wrongdoing but an investigation by local law enforcement authorities is continuing.
“We’re going to respect that process and the people involved in that investigation,” Stewart-Haas spokesman Mike Arning said.
Veteran driver Jeff Burton will fill in for Stewart this weekend. “Hopefully I can find a way to help a healing process start,” Burton said. “I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody.”
NASCAR modifies rule
NASCAR on Friday implemented a new rule sharply curbing drivers’ ability to walk on a race track in the aftermath of the fatal incident involving Stewart.
Although the incident in which Stewart’s car struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. was not during a NASCAR-sanctioned race, NASCAR took the step in response to the fatal event.
“This is one of those times where we look outside our sport … and we feel like it was time to address this,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said at a news conference at Michigan International Speedway.
The incident “was obviously something that everybody paid attention to” and the rule “is on the heels of that,” Pemberton said.
NASCAR drivers, too, have been known to emerge from their wrecked cars and, while standing on the race track, angrily gesture at rival drivers. Stewart himself threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s car on pit road at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in 2012.
Under the new rule, drivers generally are to stay in their cars until safety crews direct them to an ambulance or elsewhere unless the drivers are in an emergency situation, such as a fire or smoke inside their cars.
The rule says that otherwise, “at no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron” or approach another moving vehicle.
If a driver breaks the rule, the penalty would be on a case-by-case basis, Pemberton said. “It’s a behavioral penalty,” he said. “We’ll acknowledge it when it happens.”