NASCAR driver and owner Tony Stewart Friday spoke publicly for the first time since his car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint race race on Aug. 9.
In a prepared statement, Stewart said Ward's death will "affect my life forever."
"This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one has to experience in their life," he said. Stewart named every member of Ward's family and added that whatever pain and mourning he was feeling doesn't compare to theirs. "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."
"Every day I am thinking about them and praying for them," he said. "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."
Stewart left without answering any questions, leaving behind a table that featured a Coke bottle with his the name "Tony" on the side. Coke is one of his primary sponsors.
The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion, whose speech was solemn and halted at times, will race this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first time in four weeks.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the crash that killed Ward, who was out on the track after being spun out by Stewart in a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York, is still ongoing.
Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood said the team was "100 percent" Stewart's decision. "For Tony, it's all about the healing process, and that's why he's in the car."
Frood added: "Besides his mom, his dad, his sister, his niece and nephew, his family is here, it's at this racetrack. It's part of the healing process of being with his family that he's been with since 1999, knowing that these people are going to help him get through this. I think that's one side of it. The other side of it is he's a racer. We have 270 employees. I think him putting a helmet on will help him cope with this situation."
NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer summed it up for everyone when he told ESPN. "I can't imagine being on either side of this tragedy."
Here is Stewart's entire statement:
This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with both professionally and personally. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.
With 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., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them.
The racing community is a large family, as you guys know. 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, it's 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. I miss being back in the racecar. I think 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, 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.
We're here to race this weekend, and I appreciate your respect. There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions. Thank you.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit up Bill on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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