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Tony Stewart questioned after killing competitor during race in upstate NY

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Racecar driver Kevin Ward, 20, was killed during an accident on the dirt track Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York (about 30 miles southeast of Rochester), yesterday after being hit by 3-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart, 43, in a freak accident that has left everyone in NASCAR shaken. The race was under caution at the 25th lap at the time.

According to a video of the crash, Ward was seen walking toward Stewart’s #14 car, wearing a black helmet and firesuit on a dimly lit track. He apparently was pissed that "Tony had pinched him into the frontstretch wall, a racing thing," stated Tyler Graves, a fellow sprint car driver and friend of Ward’s.

"The right rear tire went down, he spun on the Turn 2 exit. They threw the caution and everything was toned down. Kevin got out of his car. He was throwing his arms up all over the place at Tony for most of the corner."

Although Graves claims he saw Stewart hit the throttle as he approached Ward, he does not believe he intended to hit him. Ward was hit by the rear end of Stewart's car as he swerved past him, and was sent flying 50 feet.

In the meantime, eyewitness Michael Messerly told police that, “It appeared Ward was trying to confront Stewart, then suddenly he was gone.”

Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing frequently competes in sprint car events at Canandaigua, and was involved in a 15-car accident there July 2013, in which 19-year old driver Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another that triggered that crash. Ironically, yesterday’s accident occurred almost exactly) a year after Tony Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa, that knocked him out of the 2nd half of the 2013 NASCAR season, and kept him out of competition until preparing for this year’s season-opening Daytona 500.

"He was visibly shaken by this accident," commented Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero, who added that Stewart was “fully cooperative” during questioning, and emphasized that the investigation was not “criminal.” Stewart was released after speaking to police. Anyone with video of the crash, however, is being asked to provide it to the sheriff’s office for further review.

Stewart is scheduled to start 13th in today’s Watkins Glen International in south central New York state. He only has five chances left to either win a race or move inside the top 16 in points to qualify for a place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship race.

Note: According to Ward's website, the 20-year old native of Port Leyden, NY began racing go-karts at the age of 4,, but didn't start driving sprint cars until 2010. He was rookie of the year in 2012. Stewart has won 48 Cup races in 542 career starts