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Sprint car racing tragedy will have no winners

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com

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Sports are at their heart competition, with winners and losers.

Unfortunately, that same competition has drifted into the debate over the Aug. 9 incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in which a sprint car driven by NASCAR star Tony Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., who was standing on the track while the race was under caution.

People are choosing sides – as if at some point either Stewart or Ward, and their respective friends and families, somehow will be declared the winner.

There are no winners here. No decision by a district attorney and no civil court case or the lack thereof is going to change that.

A 20-year old racer with his life in front of him had it tragically cut short. Stewart forever will be linked with Ward’s death, regardless of how it’s perceived by the public or decided by the courts.

Ward’s family is changed forever. Stewart’s life likely will be as well – to what extent no one but Stewart really knows.

Stewart will sit out his third consecutive Sprint Cup series race this weekend as Jeff Burton again will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet in Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol, Tenn.

Certainly, those around each driver and his family want to offer comfort and support. That’s wonderful – but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of acknowledging the suffering on the other side.

Nearly two weeks ago, an incident at a small dirt track in New York turned the racing world upside down.

Despite all of the outside media attention, when the headlines eventually disappear the racing community will be left to put itself back together and move on.

That will happen only if everyone is on the same side.

Notes

JR Motorsports names Elliott’s crew chief: JR Motorsports announced this week that Ernie Cope, crew chief for its part-time No. 5 Nationwide team, will take over the same role for driver Chase Elliott and his No. 9 team next season.

Cope will replace Greg Ives, who will become crew chief for Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ives and Cope will finish this year in their respective roles.

“There is a lot of racing left this year, but in putting the pieces together for 2015, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete the full race schedule,” Cope said. “I’ve been able to do that only once, and that was in 2011 with Elliott Sadler when we finished second in the championship.

“I’d like another shot at it, and Chase Elliott is an extremely talented race car driver.”

Saturday TV switch: The Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is scheduled to be shown on ABC, but WSOC-TV in Charlotte instead will air a Washington Redskins exhibition. The race will air on WAXN.

WSOC-TV will join the race in progress after the football game and the telecast will air simultaneously on both. ABC affiliates are independently operated and can make their own programming decisions.

Rhodes picks up ARCA race: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader Ben Rhodes will compete in Sunday’s Automobile Racing Club of America series race at Madison International Speedway in Oregon, Wis., with Venturini Motorsports.

Rhodes, 17, has five poles and five wins this season.

Duno to make Nationwide debut: Milka Duno will make her Nationwide Series debut Friday at Bristol, driving the No. 29 Toyota for RAB Racing.

Duno has competed in several series, including IndyCar, ARCA, American Le Mans and Grand American Rolex.

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