Should Tony Stewart skip the rest of the NASCAR season?


(Derik Hamilton / AP)

Just when will Tony Stewart drive in a NASCAR race again?

Stewart will miss his third straight race since the Aug. 9 incident in which he struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint-car race on a dirt track in upstate New York, and it is unclear when he will return. “Stewart’s plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined,” his Stewart-Haas team announced Wednesday. Stewart, 43, has been in seclusion since Ward’s death and Jeff Burton will again drive his No. 14 car Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Stewart was indulging in his love of returning to his roots by racing on a dirt track in Canandaigua, N.Y., when he collided with Ward, knocking his car into the wall. Ward exited the car during a caution flag and walked toward Stewart as he rounded the track, angrily gesturing toward him. Stewart’s car knock him down and ran over him, killing him nearly instantly. An autopsy determined that Ward’s death was due to blunt force trauma and, although no charges are pending against Stewart, an investigation into the incident by Ontario County, N.Y., authorities is ongoing. Last week, Sheriff Philip C. Povero said he expected it to take up to two weeks.

Clearly, Stewart isn’t going to drive until that is concluded and some are questioning whether he should drive again at all this season, even though fans and his fellow drivers have been supportive. Stewart, who is in seclusion, is coming to terms with what happened and “grieving,” according to Stewart-Haas Vice-President Brett Frood. He is not thinking about NASCAR’s Chase, Frood said as he discussed Stewart’s mental state.

“I’ll be honest, the Chase is of the lowest priority as it relates to Tony right now,” Frood told the Sporting News. “Right now it’s about getting Tony in a better place than he is. When he’s ready to do that, he’ll get back in the car.”

In order to recover, Stewart should take four steps now, according to Jeff Owens of the Sporting News: take time off from racing, explain what happened at Canandaigua, honor Ward in some fashion and think long-term about how to make sprint-car racing safer. From Owens:

Regardless of the outcome, Stewart must live for the rest of his life with the harsh reality that he was involved in an accident that took a 20-year-old driver’s life. That is one of the heaviest burdens anyone can bear, the reality that their actions, whether intentional, accidental or completely unavoidable, took another person’s life.

Stewart already is facing an impossible battle in the court of public opinion, with many blaming him for the accident and convicting him not with evidence but with innuendo, speculation and his history of temper tantrums and confrontations with other drivers.

No matter what Stewart does for the rest of his career, this horrible tragedy will haunt him the rest of his life — which may be worse than any legal punishment or lawsuit he may face.

Stewart’s challenge is not only to clear his name, but to set things right in a manner that brings some relief and closure to this terrible tragedy.

That’s a process that is going to take an indeterminant amount of time.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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