NEW YORK – Tony Stewart, three time NASCAR Champion and a frequent visitor to the Ohsweken Speedway, was involved in the tragic death of fellow driver Kevin Ward, a 20-year-old Sprint Car driver at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Canandaigua, New York on Saturday night.
Stewart released an official statement today saying, “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.” statement saying, “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Ontario County Sheriff Phillip Povero spoke with the media on Sunday afternoon saying that criminal charges against Stewart are not pending, and that there was no evidence to suggest this was anything more than a tragic accident.
Mike Arning, a spokesman for NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing, which Stewart co-owns, issued the following statement: “A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time.”
According to eyewitness reports, the incident happened coming out of Turn #2. Stewart’s car squeezed Ward’s car up into the outside wall, turning it around. Ward’s car had a flat tire as a result, and he exited the car to show his displeasure with Stewart’s move. Ward marched down the track and was pointing at Stewart’s car as he approached on the ensuing caution lap. Stewart’s car then slid in the turn and clipped Ward, who was run over and thrown a few yards down the track. He was pronounced DOA at the hospital.
Although only 20, Ward was recognized as a real up and comer within the racing fraternity.
He started driving sprint cars in 2010 when he notched five top-five finishes. In 2012, he was named Empire Super Sprint rookie of the year. This season was his fifth racing the Empire Super Sprints.
In July of last year, Stewart was also involved in an incident at the Canandaigua track. He sparked a multi-car wreck that sent two drivers to the hospital with injuries.
Injured driver, Alysha Ruggles is a 19-year old driver from Canandaigua. Following the crash, she was taken to Hospital because of pain in her lower back caused by the accident. Witnesses said that Ruggles’ car hit the wheel of another, went into the air 20 to 30 feet and came to a stop 50 to 60 feet later.
After that incident, Stewart said in an interview over the track’s public address system that the accident was his fault.
Saturday night was Stewart’s first return to the Canandaigua track since that incident.
He was supposed to race his #14 Sprint car at Watkin’s Glen on Sunday, but has since declined due the tragic circumstances.
“There’s not a lot we can do,” said Stewart-Haas Competition Director Greg Zipadelli. “The only thing we can do is do what we feel is right and this is what we feel is right and supporting Tony in it.”