Tony Stewart met with the media Friday for the first time since a fatal incident during a sprint car race in New York State on Aug 9. Stewart missed the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup races electing to return to competition this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Stewart took no questions, he simply read a statement in a soft voice that seemed to shake a times. He asked that people understand that until the investigation is complete he will not be answering any questions.
“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally,” Stewart said in his statement. “This is something that will definitely affect my life forever.”
Stewart was involved in a racing incident at Canandiagua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Aug. 9. In the aftermath 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. was dead.
“This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life,” Stewart said at Atlanta Friday. “That being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward’s family are experiencing is something that I can’t possibly imagine. I want Kevin’s father, Kevin senior and his mother Pam and his sisters Kristie and Kayla and Katelin to know that every day I’m thinking about them and praying for them. The racing community is a large family, as you guys know and everyone’s saddened with this tragedy. 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, has been overwhelming.”
Stewart has sat out the last three races since the accident. He announced Thursday that he would be racing this weekend.
“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,” Stewart said. “It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates and I missed being back in the racecar. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family, will help me get through this difficult time.”
Friday marked the first time that Stewart has made a public appearance since the accident.
“I also understand that all of you have many questions, and want a lot of answers,” Stewart said. However I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time. Emotionally I’m not sure if could answer them anyway. I’m here to race this weekend and I appreciate your respect and there will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions. Thank you.”
After Stewart left the stage Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing took a few questions saying the decision for Stewart to return this weekend was Stewart’s alone.
For Tony, it’s all about this healing process,” Frood said. “That’s part of why he’s in the car.”
“Besides his mom, his dad, his sister, his niece and nephew, his family is here, it’s at this racetrack,” he added. “It’s part of the healing process of being with his family that he’s been with since 1999, knowing that these people are going to help him get through this. “
“It’s been a difficult two weeks,” Frood later added. “But Tony is ready to be in the racecar. He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.”