Tony Stewart awaits District Attorney’s review of Kevin Ward Jr. case

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Later this week, a New York state district attorney’s office is expected to announce its findings in the investigation of last month’s tragedy that involved Tony Stewart and also claimed the life of young racer Kevin Ward Jr.

Stewart could be absolved of any criminal blame in the case, he could be indicted directly by the district attorney’s office, or the D.A. could forward the case to the grand jury to determine if Stewart should stand trial or not in Ward’s death.

The Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office announced last Thursday that it had forwarded its investigatory report of the August 9 incident at an upstate New York dirt track to the D.A.’s office.

Noted Chicago defense attorney Steven B. Borkan, who specializes in civil and constitutional law and has extensive expertise in death and catastrophic injury cases such as the Stewart/Ward case, spoke with MST at this weekend’s opening race for the Chase for the Sprint Cup about what potentially lies ahead for Stewart.

The most important thing to understand, Borkan said, is that just because the sheriff’s investigation was forward to the D.A. office, it does not mean Stewart will necessarily be indicted for any crime stemming from the Ward incident on August 9 on an upstate New York racetrack.

“That’s very typical, there’s nothing to be read into it at all,” Borkan said of the sheriff’s investigation being sent to the D.A.’s office. “This is standard operating procedure.

“In any jurisdiction across this country, the manner in which these investigations were undertaken – particularly in a death investigation such as this – the sheriff’s office or the police district will complete their investigation.

“It’s a major accident investigation, it’s not labeled anything other than that, and then it will go to the state’s attorney’s office for their review and determination of what they want to do with it.”

One misconception that fans and the media seem to have is that the case would have to go to the grand jury if Stewart is to face potential charges.

That’s not the case, Borkan noted. The D.A.’s office could bring charges against Stewart itself.

“If the district attorney made the determination that they felt there was enough to prosecute and convict, they could do what’s called a direct indictment,” Borkan said. “They do not have to go to the grand jury. You see that very often; not all cases do go to the grand jury.”

But even if the D.A.’s office chooses not to hand down a direct indictment, the case could still be sent to the grand jury to weigh whether Stewart was culpable in the accident that claimed Ward’s life.

“In this particular instance, the district attorney wants to make sure that the proverbial I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed,” Borkan said. “Therefore, you take it to the grand jury, you present the evidence to the grand jury and then the grand jury then makes a determination of whether or not an indictment should be handed down.”

Borkan wouldn’t speculate on how he thinks things will play out later this week when the D.A.’s office is expected to announce its findings in the Stewart case.

“That’s a really tough question,” Borkan said. “One of the things I’ve often said, particularly as a defense lawyer representing police officers throughout my career, is that without looking at all the facts from both sides – from the victim’s side, from the accused’s side, and certainly from that “10,000 foot view” – that’s something that it isn’t really fair to give an opinion on that.

“I think the authorities have taken on an Herculean task and have taken as much time as they need to review all of this and will continue to do that. The bottom line here is that a tragedy did occur, certainly Kevin Ward did get out of the car – we certainly saw that – but as you and I both know, that’s not unusual in this sport.”

If Stewart is indicted by either the D.A. or the grand jury, NASCAR could let him continue racing, based upon the legal precept that he’s innocent until proven guilty in a trial.

Or, NASCAR could go in the opposite direction and place Stewart on suspension until any potential trial and its outcome is resolved.

“I am a very passionate fan, I’m a Tony Stewart fan, I’m a sprint car racing fan, I’m a Sprint Cup fan,” Borkan said. “But also as an attorney who has handled matters where serious allegations have been leveled against my client, I certainly know that I want to see all the facts laid out to an impartial body literally A to Z before a determination is made.”

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”