As of now, there are no criminal charges pending against NASCAR driver Tony Stewart after his involvement in a fatal accident during Saturday night’s sprint car race at Canandaigua, N.Y., Motorsports Park.
But Stewart, a three-time champion in NASCAR’s premier series, could be facing legal and financial consequences. Authorities on Monday continued their investigation into the incident, determining if Stewart might have acted irresponsibly when he struck and killed another competitor, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. of Port Leyden, N.Y., during an Empire Super Sprints event.
Regardless of any possible indictment or civil lawsuit, it will take a long time for Stewart to emotionally recover from this tragedy. There will be a lot of hard choices for him to make, especially with his career in auto racing.
The incident between Stewart and Ward occurred when both drivers made contact while battling for position, with Ward spinning out and hitting the wall. The race went under caution.
A video showed Ward climbing out of his car and then walking down the dirt track during the caution. He was pointing his finger in the direction of Stewart and apparently yelling at him to express his displeasure.
Stewart’s car and the vehicle of another competitor traveling in tandem approached Ward. The first car swerved to avoid hitting him, but the right rear of Stewart’s vehicle struck Ward and dragged him briefly across the track.
Emergency personnel immediately attended to Ward. He was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The remainder of the race was canceled.
Some eyewitnesses have said they saw Stewart accelerating and swerving towards Ward just before he hit him.
During a press conference on Sunday, Ontario County, N.Y., Sheriff Philip Povero said no criminal charges are pending against Stewart at this time, but Povero did note that the investigation is ongoing.
“When the investigation is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it, but I want to make it very clear, there are no criminal charges pending at this time,” Povero said.
Stewart did not compete in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International in Upstate New York. Regan Smith substituted for him in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. On Sunday afternoon, Stewart issued a statement offering his condolences towards Ward and his family. He noted that it was a “very emotional time for all involved.”
A funeral service for Ward has been scheduled for Thursday in Boonville, New York. Ward had been racing since the age of four when he competed in go karts. He was in his fifth season with the Empire Super Sprints.
“We appreciate the prayers and support we are receiving from the community, but we need time to grieve and wrap our heads around all of this,” Ward’s family said in a statement released on Sunday.
Stewart was scheduled to compete in a winged sprint car race at Plymouth Speedway in Plymouth, Indiana this coming Saturday, but on Monday, track officials announced that he would not participate in the event. Stewart’s status for next Sunday’s 400-mile Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway is not known at this time.
After missing Watkins Glen, Stewart dropped from 19th to 21st in the Sprint Cup point standings. He has yet to win a race this season. With four races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, Stewart is 97 points behind Clint Bowyer, who holds the 16th and final provisional spot in the playoffs.
Stewart, who is 43 years old, loves to race. He has been a long-time competitor in sprint car racing, in addition to his duties in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
His incident at Canandaigua occurred one year after he broke his right tibia and fibula during a wreck in a sprint car race in Iowa. He underwent three surgeries to repair his injured leg and was sidelined for the final 15 Sprint Cup races of the 2013 season. Last month in Michigan, he competed in a sprint car event for the first time since his injury.
In July 2013, Stewart caused an accident involving 15 drivers when he competed in an event at Canandaigua. One of the drivers involved, Alysha Ruggles, who was 19 years old at the time, suffered a compression fracture in her back.
Now dealing with this tragedy, Stewart has a lot of decisions to make about his future, both in racing and in his business affairs. He co-owns Stewart- Haas Racing and owns a team in United States Auto Club (USAC) and World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Series. Stewart is also the owner of Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.
One of the things Stewart should seriously consider is stopping his extracurricular racing while he remains a competitor in Sprint Cup.