A subdued Tony Stewart said Monday he never thought about giving up driving race cars in the past seven weeks after a car he was driving struck and killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race in New York. But he said he still thinks constantly about what he called a “100 percent accident.”
“I think about it every day, Stewart said, “and I wish I could say it was once a day but it’s not. ... It will never go away. It’s always going to be a part of my life the rest of my life.”
Stewart answered questions for 40 minutes from reporters at his race shop in Kannapolis Monday – the first time he has done that in a news conference forum since Ward’s death. The news conference began, however, with the announcement that Stewart would not answer questions about exactly what happened during the accident itself.
Last week an upstate New York grand jury declined to indict Stewart in Ward Jr.’s death. Ward, 20, had climbed from his car to confront Stewart and died of blunt force trauma after Stewart’s car hit him with its right rear tire on Aug. 9 and sent Ward hurtling through the air. Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night of the accident, according to authorities.
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Stewart said he had not spoken to the Ward family but that he wanted to be “available” to them if they did want to talk. Stewart said he didn’t have to talk to Ward’s family, however, to have “closure.” Although the three-time NASCAR champion won’t face criminal charges, a civil lawsuit is still possible.
Stewart, who said he didn’t know Ward but had read a lot about him since the wreck, said he remained in seclusion for the days immediately following the incident. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody, didn’t want to see anybody,” he said. He has sought professional help to cope with his emotions following the accident and said he has often had an “awkward feeling” when appearing in public, since he knows some people still blame him for Ward’s death.
Stewart said he did not know if he would ever resume his driving career at the lower levels of racing – he often competed in those races just for the fun of it – although he left no doubt that he would continue to drive in NASCAR’s top series.
Said Stewart: “This is what I’ve done for 36 years. ... I love driving race cars.”