HAMPTON, Ga. _ An emotional and visibly distraught Tony Stewart addressed the media for the first time Friday afternoon, three weeks after an on-track accident killed another driver in a dirt-track event at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York on Aug. 9.
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion, has gone into seclusion since the accident that killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20.
Stewart will return to NASCAR racing in Atlanta this weekend, but only offered a hand-written statement to the media without taking questions.
NASCAR President Mike Helton later ruled that Stewart will be eligible to participate in the Chase playoff format should Stewart win this week at Atlanta or next weekend at Richmond, the last race before the field of 16 is set.
“We take the current circumstances that we are dealt with and make what we hope to be the best absolute conclusion,” Helton said. “That’s what we’re talking about today.”
It will definitely be an emotional weekend for Stewart, who paused several times while he was reading the statement.
"This is one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally," he said. "And this is something that will definitely affect my life forever. There is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one has to ever experience in their life. With that being said, I know the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward’s family and friends are experiencing is something I can’t possibly imagine. I want Kevin’s father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam and his sisters Kayla, Christi and Katelyn to know that everyday I’m thinking about them and praying for them.
"The racing community is a large family as you know and everyone is saddened with this tragedy. I want to thank all my friends and family for their support during this tough emotional time, and the support from my NASAR community, my partners, all of our employees, has been overwhelming. I’ve taken the last couple of weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates and I miss being back in the race car. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.
"I also understand that many of you have questions and you want answers, but I need to respect the ongoing investigation process, so I cannot address or answer the questions at this time. Emotionally I’m not sure I could answer them anyway.
"I’m here to race this weekend. And I appreciate your respect. And there will be a day when I can sit here and answer your questions.
"Thank You."George Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @georgediaz