Tony Stewart didn't answer any questions from media members Friday in his first public appearance since striking and killing Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at a dirt track in upstate New York. Instead, Stewart read a nearly three-minute statement that clearly was emotional for him to compose.
A visibly shaken and stressed looking Stewart spoke softly but pointedly. He paused often, as if he was gathering himself at every opportunity. After his statement, Stewart-Haas vice president Brett Frood took questions about Stewart's return to the track. Frood said that Stewart had sent the Ward family flowers and a card for Ward's funeral.
"Tony has sent the family flowers and a card for the services," Frood said. "Besides that, he's been very respectful of them and their time to grieve. It is very important for Tony to spend time with the family and I do believe that will happen at the appropriate time."
Ward was racing with Stewart at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park in a sprint car race. Ward, 20, hit the wall as the two were side-by-side and after his car came to a stop, he exited and went down the track to confront Stewart. He was hit by Stewart's right-rear tire.
Sunday's race at Atlanta is Stewart's first appearance back in the Sprint Cup Series since the incident. He sat out races at Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol.
Here is Stewart's statement in its entirety:
"This is been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally," Stewart said. "This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life. That being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine. I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., his mother Pam and his sisters Christi, Kayla and Katelyn to know that every day I'm thinking about and praying for them."
"The racing community is a large family. As you guys know and everyone's saddened with this tragedy. I want to thank all my friends and family for their support through this tough, emotional time. And the support from the NASCAR community, my partners, all of our employees has been overwhelming. I've taken the last couple 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 that being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time."
"I also understand that all of you have many questions and want a lot of answers. But however, I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time. Emotionally I'm not sure if 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 the questions. Thank you."
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