A 20-year-old driver was killed Saturday night when he was struck by NASCAR champion Tony Stewart during a sprint car race at Canandiagua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. The driver, identified as Kevin Ward Jr., had been involved with Stewart on the previous lap. Video showed Ward’s car as it came to rest on the back stretch. Ward exited the vehicle, and still wearing his racing helmet walked toward the line of cars circling under caution. He angrily pointed towards the car driven by Stewart; Stewart’s car struck Ward who was thrown in the air and landed several feet away. Ward was later pronounced dead at FF Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua.
A spokesperson with the Ontario County sheriff's department confirmed the incident and emailed the following statement:
On Saturday August 9, 2014, at or about 10:30 PM there was an on track incident at the Exit of Turn 2 at the Canandiagua Motorsports Park, during the Lucas Oil Supersprint Feature race. The race was in lap 14 of a 25 lap race, when one car lost control and spun coming to rest along the outside retaining wall. The race was immediately put into caution, slowing the cars on the track. The driver of the car that spun, exited the race car and walked down the track onto the racing surface. Two racecars traveling in tandem approached as the driver continued down the track, gesturing to the two approaching cars. The first car swerved to avoid the driver out on the track. The second car, operated by Tony Stewart, struck the driver. The driver was treated by on track medical staff and was transported to F.F. Thompson Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 11:15 PM. At this point, Mr. Stewart has cooperated with the investigation, which is ongoing. The Sheriff's Office has asked the individuals who possess amateur video, to please make contact with this office so that copies of the video accounts can be obtained for review. Please contact the Sheriff's Office at 585-394-4560.
Stewart was scheduled to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at nearby Watkins Glen International. Early Sunday morning a team representative confirmed that Stewart would compete and released a statement. Later Sunday morning, however, Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition met with the media and said that Stewart "feels strongly" about not racing and had made the decision. He will be replaced by driver Regan Smith.
"We gave Tony some time to sleep on it. He feels strongly this is the right thing to do," Zipadelli said. "All you can do is what you feel is right, and we feel this is right. We get through today and do it the best we can as a group.
"He's going through a tough time," he added. "It's emotional for him”
Sheriff Philip Povero said Stewart was “fully co-operative” and appeared “very upset” after the incident adding that the investigation is not criminal and that no charges have been filed.
Stewart was involved in an accident in July 2013 at the same track that left 19-year-old driver Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back. The Columbus Indiana native and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion later took responsibility for triggering the 15-car accident.
Stewart returned to sprint car racing last month nearly a year after breaking his leg in a crash at an Iowa track during a sprint car race. The accident forced him to sit out the the second half of the 2013 NASCAR season. He didn’t return to racing until February when preparation for NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 began.
Stewart was a spectator at the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the accident, and posted on his Twitter account: “Thank you to everyone that worked so hard to get me back to where I’m at today. It’s your life, live it!”