NSCS: With The Worst Behind Him, Tony Stewart is Trying to Move Forward

Kyle Magda Dirt Track Racing, Featured, NASCAR, Other Sprint Cars, Southeast, Sprints & Midgets 0 Comments

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Story by Associate Editor Kyle Magda for Race Chaser Online — Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America photo — More than a month removed from August 9, 2014, at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, Tony Stewart is still on the mend.

The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was involved in a tragic accident when Stewart’s sprint car struck 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward, Jr., who was walking towards Stewart’s car after an on-track incident between the two. 

“Honestly, before the accident, I didn’t know Kevin,” Stewart said of Ward.  “I don’t even know how many times I had raced with him.  I race with that group a couple times a year.  They’ve always been a great group to race with, but I didn’t know him.  Obviously, after the accident I’ve read a lot about him, and from what I’ve read, I think he had a really promising career as a Sprint Car driver.  It sounded like he was doing a good job and learning a lot at a young age, so I think he had a lot to look forward to.

Last Wednesday, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo announced the results of the investigation and said that the grand jury cleared Stewart of any charges regarding to the accident.  After a toxicology report, levels of marijuana high enough for impairment the night of the crash were found in Ward’s system.

“Honestly, for me, it didn’t change anything,” Stewart said of the report.  “To me a young driver lost his life.  Didn’t matter why or what was going on.  The end result was the same.  No matter what was said, it was still a tragic accident.  I just know in my heart that it was a hundred percent an accident; that detail didn’t mean anything to me personally.”

Stewart skipped the Cup race at Watkins Glen the next day and didn’t do much for the next few weeks.  Regan Smith drove the No. 14 Chevrolet at Watkins Glen and Jeff Burton took the wheel at Michigan and Bristol.

“I didn’t do much of anything to be perfectly honest,” Stewart said of the days following the accident. “I think the first three days that I was home, I really didn’t do anything.  I didn’t get out of bed.  I didn’t care if I took a shower.  I left my room to go get food, and that you almost had to make yourself eat. Didn’t want to see anybody, I just wanted to be by myself.”

He returned to the NASCAR circuit for the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway at the end of August and his first time in the Cup car since Pocono earlier in the month.  Stewart addressed the media at Atlanta for the first time since the accident on Friday of the race weekend and was met with a crowd of cheers during driver introductions that Sunday.

“At first, I thought I accidentally walked out in Dale Jr.’s spot,” Stewart quipped.  “It was probably the most flattering and humbling parts of my career was to walk out there and have that kind of reception and riding around in the back of the pick-up truck there and seeing people against the fence that were cheering for us.”

Stewart-Haas Racing had two cars made the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup with the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick and the No. 41 of Kurt Busch.  Harvick led the most laps in all three Chase races, while Busch missed the cut to move on to the Contender round.  Stewart said that he hasn’t done much to help his teammates in the last few weeks.

“I’ve let my team down from that standpoint,” he said.  “I’ve been a little bit of a cheerleader, but that’s about all I’ve been able to contribute here the last seven weeks.”

The same can be said for his World of Outlaws (WoO) STP Sprint Car Series and USAC Racing teams, Tony Stewart Racing.  One of his WoO drivers, Donny Schatz, has 24 wins on the season and is currently leading the points.

“I’ve watched and paid attention to what was going on, but I haven’t been engaged in it,” Stewart said of his dirt projects.  “I’ve watched our races that we had online at Eldora.  I’ve watched the Sprint Car races online and listened to them online, but haven’t been engaged with the teams, haven’t been engaged with the drivers.  Just kind of been an non-deal.”

Stewart said that there was never a thought of stopping of racing, as it would take the life out of the Cup champ, and that being back at the race track has aided in his rebound.

“This is what I’ve done all my life.  This is what I’ve done for 36 years, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.  I love what I do,” Stewart expressed.  “I love driving race cars, but I think it might change right now as far as how much of it and what I do, but there was never a thought in my head about stopping.”

“I think getting back in the car — every time I’ve gotten in there, it’s given me a chance to focus again, and that’s something that I’ve needed as a diversion.  But I think from the time that I went back to Atlanta, the first session there the car felt really good, and we had a good weekend in Atlanta until it got derailed.”

“I think at this point in my career as a driver, when you make that decision to put the helmet on you have to know in your heart that you’re ready to go, you’re ready to do it, and I felt comfortable in the car from day one.”

Stewart also says support from his sponsors and supporters has been big in the healing process as well.

“Our organization has stayed in close contact with the sponsors through this whole ordeal, and I’ve been able to talk to a couple of them as well.  Johnny Morris was one of the people that came to my house to see me while I was in Indiana.  We spoke to people from Mobil 1, and they came to see us the last couple weeks at the racetrack.  The support from them has been amazing.”

“It’s obviously a tough circumstance for anybody to be a part of it, for a corporation to be part of it as well, but they’ve been very supportive through this whole process.  I can’t speak to what the future will be for them.  They’ve been supportive to this point and that’s something I’ve been very grateful for.”

The support has been there, but Stewart says in the end, his situation is one that is in flux and will take time to become somewhat normal again.

However, it’s something he will never forget.

“I think our whole life I don’t think any of us ever read anything in a book at school or read anything on how to deal with a tragedy like this.  To have somebody there that could help us through that and help us be able to make forward progress was very important, and it’s still — we’re still using them,” Stewart said.  “It’s not something that gets back to normal overnight.”

“It’s something we’ll deal with a for a long time, but it’s nice to have that kind of support and that kind of guidance that will help you learn how to cope with it, deal with it, and start moving on.”

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