The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is heading to Bristol Motor Speedway, which is known to many as Thunder Valley. Tony Stewart has appeared on the official entry list according to the NASCAR fan website. Stewart has missed the last two races following the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. during an on track incident in which Stewart was involved.
Ward exited his dirt track sprint car which was against the wall following a wreck. The driver, 20 years old, then walked into the oncoming cars which were now under caution. It was an apparent effort to signal to Stewart his displeasure for being pushed up the track while racing. As Ward navigated the cars the oncoming car driven by Stewart struck and killed him.
Now the question is if Stewart does plan on racing or if he will decide to remain out of the car an additional week. Since the incident with Ward took place, on a track and during a race that was not associated with NASCAR, the driver and former Cup Champion has sat out the last two races. The death of Ward took place on the Saturday night prior to the Watkins Glen race.
Stewart sat out the Sunday race and the following Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. It’s unclear if Stewart will actually race this weekend at Bristol despite his name being on the entry list. He could always choose to select a substitute driver as he has the past two races.
Joe Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing, and famed former coach in the National Football League, has seen plenty of players and drivers face adversity during his career. Yes, Stewart’s case may be much more serious than others he has seen people go through but Gibbs is a great judge of character.
He’s of the opinion that Stewart has the strength to return to racing. Stewart race for Gibbs during several seasons before being replaced by Joey Logano.
"From what I saw with Tony, he's got great courage, he's smart, he loves this sport," Gibbs said Tuesday. "He's totally focused on it."
Gibbs understands that the accident was one that happened away from the world of NASCAR and on a dirt track but is aware of the implications it has had across the racing industry. Gibbs noted that it was a horrible situation for everyone involved.
"This is a horrible thing to have happen – for the Ward family, for Stewart – so we're all praying for 'em," Gibbs said. "This is just hard to go through, so everybody is going to have to prayerfully work their way through it."
Since the death of Ward several there has been a ripple through all forms of racing from dirt tracks to the highest levels of the sport including the Sprint Cup Series and all of NASCAR sanctioned series. NASCAR evaluated its policy on when drivers should and should not exit cars. Although the procedure remains essentially the same there were penalties announced that would apply if a driver exited a car and moved towards another driver or into the track.
Several dirt tracks and other racing venues have put into place new rules that govern when and why a driver should exit a wreck car. In general the emphasis is on safety. Drivers are to exit any car in case of emergency as quickly as possible. This would be in case of smoke or fire.
In all other cases the driver should wait until emergency crews arrive to assist them from exiting the car. If they were forced to exit due to an emergency the driver should then remain near the car or move towards a safe place until crews arrive.