A subdued Tony Stewart addressed the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway Friday for the first time since the fatal accident that claimed the life of Kevin Ward Jr. His voice reflected the emotional toll that the events of August 9 have had upon him.
He began by saying, “This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with both professionally and personally. 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.
His next thoughts were for the Ward family and the stark realization that his pain is miniscule when compared to the sorrow of the Ward family.
“With that being said,” he continued, “I know that the pain and the 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., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I’m thinking about them and praying for them.”
Stewart also took the time to thank his friends and family as well as the NASCAR community for their support.
“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, it’s been overwhelming,” he said. “I’ve taken the last couple weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted.”
Although Stewart did not answer any questions because of the ongoing police investigation, he did say that, “There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions.”
Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, answered a few questions after Stewart’s statement and said that the decision to race was “100 percent Tony’s.” He spoke to Stewart’s mental state explaining that “being in the racecar right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, what his next step is in coping with this. There’s been a great deal of empathy and sympathy for that family and what they’re going through. For Tony, it’s just been extremely emotional. This is what is going to help him.
Frood went on to say that “Tony is ready to be in the racecar. He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.”
The video of Stewart’s full statement can be viewed on nascar.com. http://www.nascar.com/en_us/news-media/articles/2014/8/29/tony-stewart-statement-atlanta.html
NASCAR president Mike Helton spoke to the media at 2 p.m. ET to reiterate that Stewart had been cleared to race. He also announced that Stewart has been granted a waiver (after missing three races) that will allow him to participate in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, if Stewart can earn a spot by winning one of the next two Sprint Cup races.
Helton did not offer any specifics on the process of clearing Stewart to drive but said, “I refer back to Steve O’Donnell’s release yesterday or statement on behalf of NASCAR that, as you know very clearly by now, we have cleared Tony to return as part of the normal process when a driver has been absent from participating.”
He then addressed the issue of Stewart’s eligibility to participate in the Sprint Cup Playoffs, stating, “As you can imagine, once Tony was cleared to return and he decided to come back, the question goes to his possible eligibility in the Chase. I’ll remind everybody back earlier this year when we announced the format for the ’14 Chase, that announcement included some responsibility about the routine participation in the season in order to be eligible in the Chase.”
“Along with that importance of routine participation also came the asterisk, so to speak, about, except in rare instances,” he continued. “This has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to our sport. As the league, it’s our responsibility to try to make decisions that are correct and right. Sometimes we evaluate circumstances that are given us and then make those decisions as correctly as we can.”
Helton concluded by saying that, “This was a very challenging, a very unique situation. I think the earlier press conference with Tony’s statement that he read was evidence of how overwhelming these set of circumstances have been. I think particularly those of us that follow this sport every weekend know that driver’s healing processes are unique, but they are racecar drivers, and a lot of times getting back in a racecar is something they shoot to do as quickly as they can.”