Some sports need individual athletes for their desired success. Basketball needs LeBron James. Golf needs Tiger Woods. Baseball needs Mike Trout. NASCAR needs Dale Earnhardt Jr. These athletes generate huge interest throughout the sporting world just by stepping foot onto the court/course/field/track.
Contrarily, some athletes need their sport. The classic example is the declining superstar – changing teams, retiring and then un-retiring, grasping at that small possibility that he can regain the form he once had.
It’s always hard to watch this happen – a once-great athlete, now a shell of his former self, trying to spark that one last moment of glory. Brett Favre retired three different times, came back twice, but missed multiple games (including his very last) due to injuries. Even under huge scrutiny, Roger Clemens made a comeback to pitch for an independent league team at the age of 50.
In the case of Tony Stewart, he can’t seem to get away from racing. It’s hard to say Stewart is declining. He had a very impressive 2012 season and seemed to be heading in the right direction in 2013 before a severe leg injury that forced him to miss the last 15 races. He’s had a very disappointing season this year with zero wins and is trailing the Chase by a large margin.
On Saturday night, Tony Stewart’s world may have come crashing down right in front of his eyes. 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. slammed into the outside wall after it appeared that Stewart slid up into him. Ward wasn’t happy at all, climbing out of his car onto the track, waiting for Stewart to come back around. Ward walked towards the middle of the track with a few cars driving by to his inside. Tony Stewart’s car then clipped Ward and dragged him along a couple of seconds before slinging him back onto the track.
(Warning: Video is graphic)
The initial reaction to the incident was pure chaos. There were rumors everywhere speculating what exactly happened before there was any video footage out. Many people claimed that Stewart hit the throttle right before running directly into Ward. Others claim that Stewart was nearly stopped on the track before hitting the gas hard and striking him. The video doesn’t necessarily suggest any of this is true. The camera view is narrow and you can only see Stewart’s car clip Ward with his right tire.
To believe Tony Stewart purposely hit Kevin Ward is asinine. Stewart has been a part of much more heated altercations than this one, and while he has gone to some extremes, he’s never done anything close to this. It’s unfair to Stewart to accuse him of deliberately hitting a driver after a minor wreck.
The blame shouldn’t be placed on Ward either, like some have suggested. It certainly isn’t smart to walk on the track while cars are driving by, but plenty of drivers have done this out of anger after being involved in a wreck. Cars typically drive by without harm while the driver attempts to yell (or throw a helmet) at the other driver.
The situation is a difficult one to determine a factual view on. There is no way to confirm that Stewart tried to hit Ward, but it’s very possible that he was trying to use his storied intimidation on him. If the reports are true, it’s not out of the question at all that Stewart may have tried to rev his engine and brush by Ward to “teach the kid a lesson.” It’s quite evident that Stewart has a fairly large ego, and I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about a 20-year-old driver getting out of his car to potentially show him up at a dirt track race.
No matter what the facts are, the circumstances are devastating – for Kevin Ward’s family and for Stewart’s. No one could’ve imagined that an entertaining, 25-lap race at a dirt track on a Saturday night would end in tragedy. Ward’s family will never be able to escape the moment that their son’s life was taken away doing the thing that he loved, and Stewart will never be able to escape the fact that his car took away the life of a young driver who probably dreamed of one day being as successful as Stewart.
Tony Stewart is a racing junkie. He owns a team with drivers competing on multiple circuits every weekend. He races in the Sprint Cup Series as well as many others when he gets a chance. It’s not odd for him to go race in a small dirt track event close to the town where he has a race that weekend. His life seems to revolve around the sport. He has no kids. He has no wife. It seems that Tony Stewart needs racing.
Stewart is known for his heated exchanges with multiple drivers throughout his career. Just search them on YouTube. It’s been noted that he has some anger management problems, and because of that, this incident makes Stewart look even worse.
We’ll never know what exactly Stewart was trying to do on Saturday night. We can completely rule out that he intended to strike Ward. Was Stewart trying to scare him a little, just give him a brush by to let him know he didn’t appreciate the gesture? Maybe. Or Stewart may have only seen him at the last moment and tried to steer away too late.
Either way, Tony Stewart needs to take some time away from the sport. Many fans have called for a suspension of Tony after some of his comments and actions in the past. It shouldn’t come to that this time. Stewart should respect the family of Kevin Ward and respect himself by taking a break. It’s never a good idea to invest every single moment of your life into one activity, as it can create an unhealthy obsession. That could be the case with Tony, even disregarding the situation on Saturday night.
Stewart took a step in the right direction by sitting out the race at Watkins Glen on Sunday. He originally announced he would still participate at the road course before changing his mind on Sunday. This was surely a tough decision for Tony considering he loves road races. He released the following statement on Sunday in reference to his withdrawal from the race: “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Tony Stewart is a good man, and he has demonstrated that through many different aspects of his life including the admirable foundation he runs. He doesn’t deserve to be condemned because of an accident that will already take a huge toll on him. Let’s pray for the family of Kevin Ward Jr. and pray that Tony Stewart can do what’s right for himself – whatever he may determine that to be.