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Only Stewart has the answers

Monday, August 11, 2014
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I can’t imagine what it must be like to kill somebody, even if it’s an accident.

I also can’t imagine what took so long for Tony Stewart to decide not to drive the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.

I’ve seen the appalling video of what happened at Canandaigua Motorsports Park during Saturday night’s Empire Super Sprints tour race, when 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. got out of his car and confronted Stewart as the NASCAR star was driving under caution.

If you haven’t seen the widely circulated one-minute, six-second clip that was shot by a fan and offers a perpendicular angle of Ward getting run over by Stewart, don’t bother.

Especially if you’re looking for clues as to whether there was some negligence or recklessness on Stewart’s part. Or some level of intent.

That was the knee-jerk suggestion by some on Twitter and various other platforms.

Save your grassy knoll theories, most of which center on the fact that you can hear a car, presumably Stewart’s, throttle up just before he hits Ward, drags him and jettisons him up the track.

My editor, Tom Boggie, has been covering motor sports for decades and assured me that a dirt sprint car takes off in a line like a dragster when you throttle up like that on a straightaway. All the power and torque go right to the rear wheels. If Stewart wanted to kick out the right rear tire, trying to scare or threaten Ward, he would have had to turn the front wheels to the left when he hit the gas (if, indeed, he’s the one who throttled up). But the video shows the front wheels of Stewart’s car facing straight ahead at the time of impact.

Could Stewart even see this kid, who was wearing a black firesuit on a relatively darkened part of the track?

Until Stewart answers that, we don’t know.

We do know what provoked Ward to walk up the track pointing his finger as Stewart and the rest of the field came around under caution.

Stewart got into Ward’s front left tire with his right rear, spinning Ward out. That’s racing. It happens.

This is racing, too: drivers get miffed when that happens, even incensed enough to get out of their cars looking for blood.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of Stewart throwing his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s car two years ago when they both wiped out at Bristol, Ward got out of his car, spotted Stewart as he came back around and walked toward the middle of the track pointing his finger at Stewart.

One car went by, then Stewart’s.

“I’m going to run over him every chance I’ve got from now until the end of the year, every chance I’ve got,” Stewart said of Kenseth right after the helmet-throwing scene at Bristol.

This is the scruffy, paint-scraping, old-school Tony Stewart that NASCAR fans love and hate in equal meas­ure.

But mostly love, because he’s a throwback to the early years, the antithesis of the corporate-clean Jimmie Johnson.

He not only hasn’t forgotten his roots, he embraces them, hitting the dirt circuits on the eve of the big races and his day job with NASCAR. Just last year, Stewart raced at Fonda Speedway and Lebanon Valley Speedway.

Hell, my mom is a Tony Stewart fan.

That’s why it’s incomprehensible that there would even be a second of hesitation to pull out of Watkins Glen. When they finally announced, Sunday morning, that Stewart wouldn’t drive, I couldn’t get “What took you so long?!?” from screaming inside my head.

Let’s not forget that 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. wasn’t just a prop in another Tony Stewart drama.

I’d urge anyone to read Kevin Busbee’s terrific sports.yahoo.com story on him.

Busbee refers to the bio photo on kevinwardracing.com that “was obviously taken in the last couple years, and yet that face wouldn’t look out of place in a Civil War photograph, defiant and a touch surly and still nowhere near old enough to be suffering the cold realities of the adult world.”

Out of simple respect for the kid and his family, out of respect for those toiling on the backwoods dirt tracks without mega-sponsors like Mobil 1, there should never have been any question whether Stewart was going to drive on Sunday.

Everything about the response from his people and NASCAR was painfully ham-handed.

USA Today quoted Stewart’s “competition director” (whatever that is) Greg Zipadelli as saying “We’re business as usual today,” before they pulled out of Watkins Glen.

A tweet from NASCAR went thus: “With heavy hearts we turn our attention to today’s #CheezIt355.”

I can’t imagine what it must be like to kill somebody.

I can’t imagine that Tony Stewart would ever voluntar­ily watch the video of himself killing Kevin Ward Jr.

That would be unthinkable.

But if he did, would he see in Ward his own shadow?

 
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