It’s been two days since NASCAR driver Tony Stewart killed Kevin Ward Jr., whom he hit with his car when the 20-year-old exited his vehicle during Saturday’s race in upstate New York. As the details of the incident are examined, Stewart could face serious consequences, while NASCAR may be forced to make some changes to the sport.
The authorities are investigating the matter, and Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero has insisted that there is no evidence indicating Stewart intentionally struck Ward. Stewart was questioned on Saturday night and on Sunday at Watkins Glen. He was described as cooperative, but very affected by the incident.
While no charges have been filed, Stewart hasn’t been completely cleared of any wrongdoing, as the investigation continues. It’s possible that that the driver could face charges of negligent homicide, which would absolve Stewart of any intent to kill Ward, while still making him somewhat culpable, because of reckless behavior.
The sheriff has asked for witnesses to provide any footage that they might have of the incident, in order to get a better look at what happened, even though video footage quickly went viral on Saturday night. Authorities will also speak to experts about the style of Saturday’s race, according to ESPN’s Mike Massaro.
Stewart did not compete on Sunday, as previously scheduled, choosing to sit out the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen. In a statement, he sent his thoughts and prayers to Ward’s family, choosing not to race because it has been a "very emotional time for all involved.”
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr.," NASCAR said in a statement. "We support Tony Stewart's decision to miss today's race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward."
Sunday’s race isn’t the only one that Stewart will miss, following the tragedy. The 43-year-old was going to race at Plymouth Speedway in Indiana on Saturday. Now, he has decided against competing, and it’s unknown what other races Stewart might miss.
On Saturday, Ward exited his vehicle after Stewart put his car into the wall near Turn 2 of the track. NASCAR currently has no rules designed to prevent drivers from leaving their cars, but that could change after Ward’s death. Drivers often exit their car for a variety of reasons, though changes could be implemented in sprint car safety.
“When you jump out of the race car and get out in the groove, you’re putting yourself in all kinds of danger,” H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway told the Charlotte Observer. “What was going through Tony’s mind, no one will ever know but Tony. Certainly the last thing in the world he wanted was to hit another driver.”
Dale Earnhardt’s death at the Daytona 500 in 2001 ultimately forced NASCAR to focus more on driver safety, which might have saved lives. NASCAR’s safety research and development center has helped introduce innovations such as improved seatbelt systems, protective seats and head restraints that now protect drivers when they get into potentially deadly crashes.
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