Report: Grand jury now hearing testimony in Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. case

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The next phase of the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. saga has begun.

Rochester, New York’s Democrat and Chronicle is now reporting that Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo has convened a grand jury to determine whether the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will face charges for his role in an Aug. 9 sprint car accident that left the 20-year-old Ward dead.

This development comes one week after Tantillo announced that he would forward evidence from the crash investigation to a grand jury, saying that such a decision was “appropriate” following a full review of said investigation.

Shortly after Tantillo’s announcement on Sept. 16, Stewart pledged his continued cooperation in a statement.

The D&C’s Kevin Oklobzija also reports that Chuck Hebing, who competed in the Aug. 9 race at Canadaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park where Ward lost his life, has confirmed that he’s been called in to testify before the grand jury. However, Hebing declined further comment on the subject.

On Aug. 9, Ward climbed out of his car and walked down the racing surface to apparently confront Stewart following an on-track incident between the two when he struck by Stewart’s car. Ward was later pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

Per New York state laws regarding grand juries, 12 of the 23 jurors must recommend charges before a prosecutor can go about obtaining an indictment.

A New York grand jury can either vote to bring an indictment, vote to dismiss charges, or direct the prosecutor to file information accusing the person of a crime less serious than a felony. It is unknown how long it will take to present the evidence or for witnesses to testify.

While the case has progressed, Stewart has resumed Sprint Cup competition following a three-race absence from the circuit in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.