What’s next for Tony Stewart, the person?

16 Comments

Tony Stewart’s personal future is a serious question mark after the accident Saturday night where driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

His livelihood outside of his usual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series commitments is at stake, because he’s been through a seriously rough stretch of accidents over the last year and a half in dirt track races.

Prior to Saturday night, there’s been a rash of accidents that have swept over Stewart like a tidal wave in the last year and a half.

Last year, he was in a 15-car pileup in New York, flipped his car in Canada and then broke his leg in Iowa, the latter of which sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

And then here’s what happened on Saturday night: Stewart and Ward were racing for position, and as Stewart’s car slid up the road, that contacted Ward and sent the young 20-year-old driver into a spin.

Ward got out of his car, walked down a hot track, and then was contacted by Stewart as he came around the corner on a dimly lit track. The fact the track wasn’t well lit, Ward was in a dark firesuit and dark helmet, and vision out the right side of sprint cars is notoriously bad (limited visibility) all conspired to create a perfect storm of circumstances and ultimately, cost Ward his life.

Stewart has cooperated with law authorities to this point as the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department continues its investigation; the Sheriff said Sunday there was no criminal intent at this time.

Stewart has released a statement, pulled out of driving in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, and drivers have reacted, including fellow Cup champion Dale Jarrett, now a TV analyst for ESPN.

While the legal investigation is still ongoing (here is a link to the court case), how Stewart recovers from this personally will be interesting to witness.

Others (USA Today/NBCSN’s Nate RyanAP’s Jenna FryerSporting News’ Bob Pockrass, veteran Monte Dutton to name but a few) have also noted this, but Stewart and dirt track racing are blood brothers. It’s in his DNA, and it’s something you can’t take out of him, no matter how many times he gets into an accident.

Without a family of his own, Stewart’s passion, hobby and life outside the Cup circuit is, well, the dirt tracks. From those I spoke to over the weekend with knowledge of how Stewart operates, this fuels him and makes him tick.

He derives great enjoyment from these races – it fuels his fire even if it’s coming as a moonlighting guest driver.

His presence can sell more tickets. Local short track races are generally exciting as they are and when a megastar of Stewart’s magnitude joins the show, that only enhances the fan experience.

But the fan experience has been affected as a result of what happened Saturday night. Those who drove in that race, watched from the pits or watched from the stands will have a tough time getting over what they saw.

So too has Stewart, who despite his gruff temperament and legendary temper, still has a big heart – something that’s being written a lot now in the wake of this tragedy – but those who know him know this could not have been done with ill intent.

As it is, Stewart will likely have a long road to recover mentally from what’s happened this weekend.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”