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Tony Stewart struck and killed another driver Saturday night at a dirt track in Upstate New York, according to the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff's Department.
In a press conference early Sunday morning, Sheriff Phillip Povero relayed the grim news.
The sheriff's department declined to identify the driver, who was pronounced dead at 11:15 ET Saturday, but according to multiple witnesses it was 20-year-old Kevin Ward.
The incident took place at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Stewart and Ward were racing into Turn 2 when Stewart's car drifted into the top lane off the corner and Ward's car went spinning into the wall. According to multiple witnesses, Ward got out of his car to confront Stewart. As Stewart drove by, his car struck Ward, launching him down the track.
The incident was captured on video, and can be viewed here (Warning: it’s disturbing to watch).
The OCSD said there were no charges pending as of early Sunday morning and that Stewart has been cooperative.
Stewart, a three-time champion in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series, was racing in the sprint car race at the dirt track north of Watkins Glen, where Sunday’s Sprint Cup race is being held. Stewart made the decision Sunday morning to not compete in the race and will be replaced by Regan Smith.
Michael Messerly, who said he attended the race with his son Saturday night, told Yahoo Sports that he saw Ward get out of his car and walk down towards Stewart's car.
"I just know that he was in one spot and when Tony went by, he wasn't in that spot any more," Messerly said.
“People [who could see it better] said the guy got out of his car and was gesturing angrily at Tony Stewart when Tony Stewart came by during the next lap under yellow,” Rich Willis said in a phone interview with Sporting News. "He approached him and evidently when he was driving by the guy standing on the track gesturing at him, he gunned his engine.
"What happened was the back end kicked out and clipped the guy and the guy flew across the track."
Ward, 20, is from Port Leyden, N.Y. According to his website, he started racing when he was 4.
Canandaigua track president and race director Chuck Miller told the AP that he couldn't see that anyone would hit a competitor on purpose.
Stewart is one of a handful of NASCAR drivers who moonlight on dirt tracks around the country. Just over a year ago, he suffered a broken right leg in a dirt track accident. After last year’s crash, he missed the rest of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season. This season in the Cup Series, he hasn’t won a race and is 19th in the points standings.
Early Sunday morning, Stewart-Haas Racing issued a statement.
"A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."
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