NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart was replaced by driver Regan Smith for the race at Watkins Glen on Sunday at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Stewart was involved in an on track incident at the dirt track, located in upstate New York, on Saturday night.
The incident claimed the life of 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. Putting Smith in the car was a wise move following the tragic events.
During the race the two drivers made contact with their cars and a lap later Ward was in the wall. The race was put under caution as the cars lapped under the yellow. When the cars circled around Ward exited his car and walked down the track to possibly confront Stewart as he drove by according to reports. The car in front of Stewart swerved to miss the driver walking in the track but Stewart’s car struck Ward killing him.
Ward was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said Stewart was cooperating and answering questions. The Sheriff also said that no criminal charges were pending at the time.
“This is right now being investigated as an on-track crash, and I don’t want to infer that there are criminal charges pending,” Povero stated. “When the investigation is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it. But I want to make it very clear: there are no criminal charges pending at this time.”
Stewart Steps out of Car
In the hours following the death of Ward it was announced that Stewart still planned on racing in the NASCAR Spint Cup series race on Sunday. Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, tried to put a good face on the hectic day by saying the whole team was trying to do things that involved preparing for the race as being “business as usual.”
It was obvious as the day progressed, and after Stewart got some sleep, that a driver change would be made. Zipadelli said that the three-time NASCAR champion would sit the race out and that Stewart “feels strongly” he should not race at Watkins Glen following Kevin Ward Jr.’s fatal accident. Stewart released a full statement.
"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."
Videos of the on track death have already surfaced online and will most likely be reviewed as Povero and his department investigates Ward’s death.
Darkness May Have Played a Role
The race took place on Saturday night and after Ward crashed witnesses said he exited his car and walked down the dark racing surface. A Video of the incident showed Ward walking and gesturing before Stewart’s car struck him. Sheriff Povero said that Ward was "wearing a black fire suit" as well as his black helmet.
Pictures and videos of the incident clearly show that the track was dark compared to NASCAR Sprint Cup series tracks. On Sirius Satellite NASCAR Radio commenter and driver Elliot Sadler said when you are a driver and in the car your mind is on racing even when your are under the caution and a person walking on the track is simply out of place.
“You just don’t expect somebody to be walking on the track,” Sadler said.