Tony Stewart speaks, cites overwhelming support in the search of return to normalcy

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Tony Stewart has addressed the media in full for the first time since the August 9 accident that killed Kevin Ward Jr., and since Stewart was cleared by a Grand Jury of all legal charges last week.

While Stewart had had a written statement in the immediate aftermath, a brief response upon his return to the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a several-part interview with the Associated Press last week, he had not fully addressed the media in a news conference until Monday morning.

Questions related to the accident itself, however, were off limits. Stewart-Haas Racing PR chief Mike Arning said the statements from Michael Tantillo, the Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney, last week outlined the facts of the incident itself.

Still, there were some elements revealed from this press conference.

Stewart confirmed he had seen the video of the accident.

He also said he would be available to speak to Kevin Ward Jr.’s family if they want to speak with him; however, he said he would not need to speak to them for closure.

Asked if he could do anything different, Stewart said simply, “I’d have stayed at Watkins Glen that night. I do this stuff to have a good time. That’s all I wanted to do that night.

“I just wanted to go run my sprint car for a night. It didn’t end up being fun that night.”

Stewart dismissed retirement talk, when asked if that was an option. While he reiterated what he told the AP in terms of his not racing sprint cars for a while, he said he can’t quit what he’s done his whole life, for 36+ years.

“Right now I couldn’t give you a small idea of when I’ll get back in. I won’t be in for a while,” Stewart said of his sprint car driving presence.

“There was never a thought in my head about stopping. That would take the life out of me,” he said.

Stewart spoke of his struggles in managing his Sprint Cup race team, Stewart-Haas Racing, and all his sprint car products, be it race teams or Eldora Speedway.

“I’ve let my team down from that standpoint. I’ve been a bit of a cheerleader, but that’s all I’ve been the last seven weeks,” he said of SHR.

On the dirt track side: “I’ve watched and paid attention, but I haven’t been engaged in it.. Watched online at Eldora, listened online. But I haven’t been engaged with the teams or drivers.”

Stewart said sponsors have been supportive throughout the process; communication with Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shops) and Mobil 1 has been positive.

Stewart’s last seven weeks, especially at the outset, had mainly been in seclusion. He said days were going by slower, and he did not want to do much of anything.

“The first three days, I didn’t get out of bed, didn’t care if I took a shower,” he said. “I had to force myself to get food. First 3-4 days I didn’t want to talk to anybody. Finally started moving around a little bit and every day got a little bit easier. Didn’t have any desire to do anything. You asked yourself ‘Why, why did this happen.’

“It’s been awkward because I know what a typical day was like for me, and what I thought about. You get in a pattern. This was something that changed that pattern. It won’t get back to normal, but it will get better.”

Still, the overriding message Stewart had Monday was of the level of support he has received from the NASCAR garage, community and fans, in what has been a trying and difficult seven weeks.

“Initially, I was hurt by some of the things I read,” Stewart said. “But it’s people who don’t know me, and never spent time with me. They ran with it based on what was presented or if they were people who didn’t like me to begin with. I really stopped wasting my time worrying about it. That’s all that matters.”

Stewart also thanked drivers for reaching out and the fans for welcoming him back when he was introduced ahead of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series return at Atlanta.

“Honestly I thought I had walked out in Dale Jr.’s spot,” he joked. “But it was very overwhelming. I’m glad I had sunglasses on. It was the one of the most flattering, humbling parts of my career to have that kind of reception.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.