Stewart explains how he decided not to race at Watkins Glen in aftermath of Ward crash

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On the morning after the sprint car crash that involved Tony Stewart and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli said it would remain “business as usual” for Stewart’s No. 14 team in that afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Ultimately, however, Stewart chose not to compete in the Cheez-It 355, instead handing over the No. 14 to Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith.

The “business as usual” line seemed to resonate with some members of the media, who believed that there never should’ve been any question about Stewart not participating at the Glen.

In his first interview since a grand jury decided not to charge him in the fatal crash at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, Stewart touched upon how he handled the immediate aftermath.

He indeed traveled to Watkins Glen to prepare for the Cup race and arrived at his motorhome around 2 a.m. local time.

According to the AP’s Jenna Fryer, Stewart believes he was in shock at the time and while he had told his team that he would race, he woke up the next morning and realized he wasn’t up for it in any way.

“You race hurt, you race sick, and that’s the way racers have always been,” he said. “You say you can go do what you need to do, and then it becomes very clear that you can’t.”

With that, arrangements were quickly made to shuttle Smith up to Watkins Glen and race in Stewart’s absence.

That Sunday morning, Zipadelli told reporters that Stewart “feels strongly that this is the right thing to do”; Smith finished 37th in the race after being caught in a late incident.

Racked by grief and sorrow, Stewart did not compete in the next two Cup races at Michigan and Bristol either. Sprint Cup veteran and NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton drove for him in each of those outings. Eventually, Stewart returned to action at Atlanta late last month.

Racing through tragedy is a part of the sport’s culture, for better or for worse. It’s how these brave competitors choose to cope in such situations: Not forgetting, but getting on with the business at hand.

Stewart is as “racer” as they get. To recognize that he needed to step out of the cockpit tells you how much the events of Aug. 9 affected him. Certainly, it was the right thing to do.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”