Tony Stewart fatal crash 8-9-2014

Don’t be too quick to judge Tony Stewart, let the experts do their jobs


Editor’s note:’s MotorSportsTalk writer Jerry Bonkowski has spent over 30 years as a sports writer, columnist and editor covering NASCAR and motorsports for USA Today,, Yahoo Sports and now MST. He also wrote this column from the unique perspective of having served more than 20 years as a fully-sworn, state-certified part-time police officer.

In the time span of just a few hours after a horrendous accident, Tony Stewart was charged, convicted and sentenced by many in the court of public opinion following Saturday’s fatal incident involving 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

So-called “experts” inundated Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other forms of social media, carelessly, recklessly and without any type of evidence throwing around words such as “intentional” and “murder.”

Those are very damning words for an incident that on the surface is an accident until proven otherwise – if it can be proven otherwise, that is.

How can they be so sure that Stewart intentionally struck and ran over Ward, leading to his death, which was confirmed about an hour or so after the incident by Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff Phillip Povero, according to multiple media reports?

Were those people at the small dirt track just about an hour northwest of Watkins Glen International, site of Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup race?

Even Povero told USA Today that Stewart was “fully cooperative” and that “the incident is not being investigated as a criminal matter.” If the investigating sheriff says it’s not a criminal matter or an intentional attack on the racetrack, how can so many people think otherwise? They base that opinion upon what they’ve heard or read or seen – and sometimes even that isn’t clear-cut enough to make such a serious value judgment as Stewart is being accused by so many.

To me, there are only a few undeniable facts that have emerged from the incident. Everything else is supposition, hyperbole and plain guessing:

* First, there was an on-track incident between Stewart and Ward. Based upon video that captured the incident, it appeared to be nothing more than a typical racing incident that happens hundreds of times each year on everything from Sprint Cup tracks to the smallest grassroots racing dirt tracks.

* Second, again, judging by the video, it appears the area where Stewart allegedly struck Ward was rather dimly lit, not unusual for short tracks such as that.

* Third, if investigating sheriff’s deputies believed Stewart did intentionally strike Ward, would he have been released from custody after fully cooperating with investigators?

* Fourth, do sane, normal and logically thinking individuals really believe a driver of Stewart’s caliber, who has done so much in his career, would throw it all away by intentionally hitting a mere kid on a tiny dirt track in the upstate New York hinterlands? Granted, Stewart has a temper – which has been seen countless times over his career – but would he completely lose control of his sense of right and wrong and go out and murder a kid that he had just spun in a racing incident? Just the thought of that is nothing short of ludicrous.

* Fifth, and this is perhaps the most important part of all: Ward got out of his spun race car. He walked down from the top of the racetrack and into the middle of, again, a dimly-lit area. This is where the true sense of speculation stems. Maybe Stewart didn’t see Ward. Maybe Stewart tried to avoid Ward and it was too late, again, partly due to the lighting in that area of the track and Ward walking down into the middle of the track dressed in a dark firesuit. As much as it pains me to say this, and I’m not attempting to be an “expert” about this event as it unfolded in any way, but what was Ward doing walking around in the middle of a racetrack with cars coming around still under power? That’d be like someone walking in the middle of a freeway to confront someone who he or she just had a fender-bender with. What did Ward try to accomplish by walking directly in front of Stewart, with the likely intent of shaking his fist or pointing a finger at the three-time Sprint Cup champ for spinning him only seconds earlier?

We can’t ever know.

This isn’t the first time a driver has killed someone – and I use the word “killed” in the sense that, yes, a fatality occurred as an end result, but not due to anything intentional on the driver’s part.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty struck and killed – again, I’m using that word in context that a death resulted, but it was not from an overt or intentional act upon Petty’s part – an 8-year-old boy during a drag race on Feb. 28, 1965 in Dallas, Ga.

Petty had temporarily left NASCAR racing that season in a dispute over the use of a new and potent 426 Hemi motor that the sanctioning body banned.

With NASCAR still a regional sport based in the Southeast, Petty moved to drag racing, which had caught fire in its Southern California birthplace a decade earlier and progressively moved east and grew into something that was arguably even bigger than NASCAR at the time.

Petty was in a race on that fateful day when something happened to his Plymouth Barracuda. Either something broke or he lost control – or both. Sadly, the end result was Petty’s car left the dragstrip racing surface and plowed into a crowd of fans, killing little Wayne Dye and injuring several other spectators.

After a long and thorough investigation, the accident was ruled just that, and Petty was not charged with any type of offense that stemmed from the crash.

But Petty has carried that memory with him for nearly 50 years. To this day, he still gets upset talking about it, and more often than not simply refuses to discuss it. Stewart is also going to carry the memory of what happened Saturday night with himself as well for the rest of his life.

For now, regardless of what all the “experts” say or media types looking to grab attention with a flashy headline insist, we know only two things for certain:

One, Tony Stewart was involved in an accident, and two, a young man died. Everything else is an unknown until a thorough and proper investigation is performed, no matter how long it takes to complete.

And when that investigation is completed, it will be by trained and REAL experts who will come to a rational and logical conclusion based upon facts and evidence – and not opinion.

As someone once told me many years ago when I first got into journalism, “Opinions without facts are like noses. They both can smell.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Mercedes’ Suzuka protest over Verstappen down to ‘miscommunication’

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo locks a wheel under braking as he tries to overtake Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has revealed that the team’s brief protest over Max Verstappen’s second-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix was the result of a “miscommunication”.

Mercedes contacted the FIA following the race at Suzuka on October 9 to lodge a protest against Verstappen, believing his on-track defence from Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps to have breached the sporting regulations.

Verstappen finished less than a second clear at the checkered flag, meaning a time penalty would gain Hamilton a position and three extra points in his bid for the drivers’ championship.

The FIA stewards informed Mercedes that a decision could not be made at Suzuka as both Hamilton and Verstappen had already left the track, postponing a hearing to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin.

Mercedes withdrew its protest not long after, making the result of the race official and leaving Verstappen in second place with Hamilton third.

Ahead of this weekend’s race in Austin, Wolff explained what caused the mix-up over the protest, saying that Mercedes had to make a split decision before leaving Japan.

“It was a miscommunication,” Wolff said.

“When we left the circuit, I said that the Verstappen manoeuvre was a hard manoeuvre but probably what we want to see in Formula 1. He’s refreshing and I think that the drivers need to sort that out among themselves on track.

“And we decided not to step in and then it was an unfortunate coincidence that we took off, we left. The team had a minute to decide whether to protest or not and that’s what they did.

“Once we were able to communicate again, which was 30 minutes after take-off, we decided to withdraw the protest.”

WATCH LIVE: FP3 into USGP qualifying, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The third and final free practice session and qualifying for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix are on tap from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can watch coverage of both on NBCSN and streaming via and the NBC Sports App.

A mega-show will run on NBCSN covering both sessions, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Coverage of FP3 can be seen live online at ( and the NBC Sports App for participating cable providers at 11 a.m. ET, and will run until 12 p.m. ET.

That FP3 coverage will then lead off the NBCSN show at 12:30 p.m. ET, and run for an hour. A half-hour pre-qualifying show then runs from 1:30 p.m. ET into the start of LIVE qualifying at 2 p.m. ET. Qualifying runs for an hour until 3 p.m. ET.

From 3 to 4 p.m. ET, there will be a post-qualifying show from Austin.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET for the live stream of FP3, then 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN for TV coverage of FP3, and LIVE qualifying from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Ecclestone: ‘Difficult’ to get more F1 races in the United States

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks in the Paddock  during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes it will be “difficult” to get more races in the United States despite a renewed drive to grow the sport in the American market.

The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas plays host to the United States Grand Prix for the fifth time this weekend, with track chairman Bobby Epstein predicting its second-highest attendance.

Following a recent takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media, a renewed drive on developing the sport’s presence in the USA is expected.

New F1 chairman Chase Carey has expressed a desire to grow the American fanbase, leading to questions about holding multiple races in the United States.

However, Ecclestone is unsure that getting another race in the USA would be possible, having tried to get the Grand Prix of the America in New Jersey off the ground in recent years.

“I think it will be difficult to get more races [in the U.S.]” Ecclestone told Reuters.

“I tried in New York. The trouble with the Americans is you want to do a deal with them and they want guaranteed profit before they start.

“I said if I knew that was going to happen, I wouldn’t need you.”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff would like to see more American races added to the calendar, believing it to be an important market for the German manufacturer.

“It’s great to be in such a great place like Austin. Every year we are coming here, it’s really a fantastic venue,” Wolff said.

“Having more grands prix in such an important market for Mercedes, it would be good and wherever we can help, we will do that.”

However, Epstein expressed caution when talking to NBC Sports earlier this month about adding more U.S. races to the calendar, with the cost of hosting a grand prix being a huge stumbling block.

“The ability to support a number of multiple races in the U.S. is going to depend largely on the size of the fanbase,” Epstein said.

“It’s kind of a chicken and the egg equation. If you put on more races, it will create more fans, not just in the first year but over time hopefully it does.

“As much as anything, promoting the sport on TV and having races on our timezone over five to 10 years will build more fans.”

Kvyat retained alongside Sainz at Toro Rosso in 2017

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AUSTIN, Texas – Scuderia Toro Rosso have confirmed on Saturday Russian Daniil Kvyat will continue with the team into 2017, alongside Carlos Sainz Jr.

This gives the team the same pairing as they’ve had since this year’s Spanish Grand Prix. Sainz will be into his third season with the team, having been confirmed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Kvyat, who premiered with Toro Rosso in 2014 before moving up to Red Bull Racing in 2015 and then switched back to Toro Rosso this year, will now be set for his fourth overall season, third with Toro Rosso.

“It makes a change to announce our driver lineup relatively early,” said Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost in the team release. “There are so many new elements coming to Formula 1 in general and to our team specifically, in terms of the change of power unit supplier, that having the same two drivers gives us stability and a benchmark to work from.

“For Carlos, it will be his third year with us, which speaks volumes when it comes to how highly we rate him. In recent races, it has been clear that Daniil is back on top form. I always told him that his future with us was in his hands and he has stepped up to the mark and delivered the sort of performances that have ensured his 2017 seat in the STR 12. We now have a very talented and strong driver pairing to tackle a season in which we expect to be very competitive.”

“Great news! I’d like to thank Red Bull, Dr. Marko and all the team for their support and the faith they have shown in me since I returned to the team earlier this year,” Kvyat said in the release.

“I’m very happy to stay with a team that feels like home to me. I’m really looking forward to continuing the hard work together in 2017 and I’m really aiming high. I will always be fully dedicated, giving my 200%, and I will be pushing as hard as I usually do, that’s for sure. I’m delighted!”

Sainz hailed the continuity the team will have going into 2017, citing the upcoming regulation changes to come.

“Considering how many changes there are in the Formula 1 pipeline for 2017, it’s good to know that Daniil and I will continue to be teammates here in Toro Rosso next year,” he said. “We know each other very well, as we’ve been racing together since 2010, and we work well together. I know that this season isn’t over yet, but I’m already looking forward to next year!”

This comes as a perhaps surprising move with Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings and looking a good candidate for Kvyat’s spot, and being present here this weekend following his recent Pirelli 2017 tire test at Abu Dhabi for Red Bull Racing.

Kvyat had said earlier this weekend he was keen on continuing within the Red Bull framework, despite rumors of a move to Force India.