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.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
0 Comments

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)