On Saturday evening, Kevin Ward Jr. passed away during a sprint car race in Canandaigua, New York. Ward made contact on the track with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart. Ward, 20, went outside of his car to show his frustration with Stewart, but Stewart’s car made contact with him – evidently ending his life.
According to Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero, Ward was taken to a local hospital after being hit by Stewart, and was pronounced deceased on arrival. Although Stewart was not charged, an investigation is ongoing as local officials are still speaking to witnesses of the incident.
Stewart’s team, Stewart Haas Racing, released the following statement after the accident early Sunday morning:
“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."
In the accident, Stewart squeezed into Ward’s No. 13 car in Turn 2 – causing him to have a flat tire. When he exited the cockpit of his race car, Ward walked down the track to express his displeasure with the 43-year-old driver. However, during the caution laps, he was using a slightly higher lane compared to the other drivers, and Ward rapidly walked towards Stewart’s vehicle. He was caught underneath Stewart’s right rear tire – sending him flipping in the air multiple times until he landed flat on the ground.
Since he was a four-year-old, Ward had been racing cars. Starting out in go-karts, he progressed over the years to race in Empire Super Sprint division.
In 2013, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was involved in an incident at the same track in upstate New York as well. In a 15-car crash, which Stewart caused, Alysha Ruggles, 19, received a back injury.
After originally planning on racing the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, approximately one hour away from the dirt track where the incident took place, Stewart’s team announced at 10:20 a.m. ET that he will not be racing on Sunday afternoon. Even though he was not charged by county officials and was released, he opted to sit out the race after carefully discussing the incident with his team.
Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, told reports that Regan Smith will replace Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet for Sunday’s event. Smith drives the No. 7 car for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – a team that has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. There is no word on whether or not Stewart will return to the seat of his car next weekend at Michigan International Speedway since the investigation is pending.
“We at SHR support it and agree with it,” Zipadelli said. “It's a difficult time for both parties. This is what we feel is right and we're supporting Tony in it."
Following Zipadelli’s press conference, NASCAR issued this statement:
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. 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.”