“I know what happened,” a soft-spoken Tony Stewart told the media Monday morning. “I know it was an accident.”
Cutting a sharp contrast to the fiery figure seen on the racetrack, a subdued Stewart spoke to the news media for the first time since killing driver-turned-pedestrian Kevin Ward, Jr. at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park on August 9. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion spoke about the possibility of speaking to Kevin Ward, Jr.’s family, the marijuana found in the young driver’s system, and the depression he endured in the aftermath of the accident.
“From what I read, he had a really promising career as a spring-car driver,” Stewart said of the young man killed by his sprint car. The Hoosier racer said the fact that a postmortem found marijuana in Ward’s system didn’t matter to him. “Honestly, for me it didn’t change anything,” he explained. “A young driver lost his life. It didn’t matter why…. I know in my heart it was 100 percent an accident. That detail didn’t mean anything to me personally.”
With the possibility of civil litigation in the wake of a grand jury’s Wednesday decision not to pursue charges against him, Stewart indicated that speaking to the Ward family isn’t something he needs to do for closure. “At this point,” he explained. “I want to be available to them if they want to talk about it.”
Stewart didn’t rule out the possibility of returning to sprint cars. The 43-year-old driver indicated that retiring from racing entirely never crossed his mind in a serious way. “I spent all that time trying to defend sprint-car racing,” Stewart reflected about the period following his 2013 leg break. “I’m passionate about it, and I love it.”
But in the days following the fatal Upstate New York accident, Stewart didn’t feel passionately about much of anything. “I didn’t really do much of anything to be perfectly honest,” he explained. Stewart says he didn’t shower or talk to people, and left bed only to eat. He admits to insulating himself from criticism. He offered that people make judgments on “100 percent of the information” that they possess, which amounts to about “10 percent of the information” that exists. “A young man lost his life, I don’t care what side you’re on. It doesn’t change that.”
The fourteenth finisher at Dover this weekend says the accident forced him to reflect. “As a race car driver, that’s all that consumed my life,” the childless bachelor noted. “This has given me the opportunity to think about other aspects of my life.”
Stewart confessed that he doesn’t know when or if he will take the wheel of a sprint car again. “I just wanted to have fun,” he said of August 9. “It wasn’t a big-paying race by sprint-car standards.” When asked about regrets, Stewart divulged that he wished he had “stayed at Watkins Glen that night.”