First of all, most people know I am not foremost a fan of Tony Stewart, and trust me if you could hear me on race day when he is driving too close to Jeff Gordon, you will know my preference; but I am a race fan and I can’t stand by and not defend Stewart against the attacks and wild accusations flying around.
The incident Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park was a combination of two things: racing and hot headedness. What needs to be said is it was NOT Tony Stewart being the hot head, it was Kevin Ward Jr.’s reactionary anger with the racing incident between he and Stewart that snow balled into a tragedy that no one could have predicted or expected. However, it certainly, certainly could have been prevented had Ward used any shred of common sense that night.
For many people seeing the video, they jump to the conclusion that Stewart purposely hit Ward. These people may simply not understand the circumstances of the scene or that kind of racing; so for this let me share my take:
1) While yes, drivers do get out of their cars on track in the heat of the moment all the time; they do not (at least none I’ve seen) ever play “dodgeball” with the running cars to get to the intended target of their ire. Watching the video that’s exactly what Ward did! He had to dodge numerous cars running under caution. The car directly in front of Stewart nearly hit Ward, too. Ward kept coming even then toward Stewart.
2) Which brings me to my next point, it was a DIRT track in the dark of the night. Stewart likely was focused on the car ahead of him, possibly didn’t even know why the caution waved, and could have no way of knowing Ward was on track heading toward him. Stewart sees the 45 swerve and then there is Ward. Looks to me like Stewart tried to avoid Ward and in the process the car fishtailed, hitting Ward and sending him flying into the air. It is a dirt surface, which does not have the traction or grip of a surface street. Tony’s reaction was done in a milisecond. The consequences were not intended, premeditated or anything Stewart did with purpose.
There are NO spotters at dirt tracks. Tony likely didn’t even know Ward was coming like a raging bull for him until it was too late. The reason he got hit by the 14 and not one of the others is that Ward kept coming at the car- he didn’t back off. I can’t even fathom what he was thinking or hoping to accomplish.
My heart goes out to the Ward family. It was a tragedy that no family should have to face, but that is what it is – a tragedy, an accident, not murder, not even a result of a two-way confrontation.
I’ve only met Stewart a few times, but I have had enough conversation with him to know he’s a tender-hearted, caring man who needs our prayers as much as the Wards. Tony has three passions which drive him: racing, helping animals and young people. He would never, ever intentionally cause a young driver to be hurt, certainly not killed.
Look at any past Stewart blowup with another driver and you will see Stewart uses his hands to retaliate, not his car. In this incident Saturday, Stewart wasn’t looking for retaliation – he couldn’t have even understood what was going on.
Also, please remember that the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department has been investigating the accident since it took place. After a preliminary investigation there have been NO criminal charges, none are pending, and further they find no grounds for criminal negligence at this time. Please give them the benefit of the doubt that they have more information than we do and know what really transpired. Jumping to conclusions is not going to change the outcome of the tragedy- it can only hurt more people.