Latest Tony Stewart Comments Show Racing Normalcy Still a Long Way Off

Joe Menzer@@OneMenzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2014

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In examining Tony Stewart's comments from Monday's news conference at the Stewart-Haas Racing complex, which the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver co-owns with Gene Haas, one fact became abundantly clear very quickly.

While Stewart's first Q&A session with the media since the Aug. 9 incident which resulted in the death of 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. was a purposeful and well-meaning step toward a hopeful return to normalcy, it was only a baby step.

Stewart, understandably, is a long way from normalcy. So is Ward's family, which lost a family member and is also struggling to come to grips with the situation.

"I don't know if it'll ever be normal again," Stewart said. "Before the accident, a day would fly by me. Now a day seems like two, three days. Like the batteries are running low on the clock."

Kevin Ward Jr. is remembered by the community where he raced.
Kevin Ward Jr. is remembered by the community where he raced.USA TODAY Sports

That's just it. When something tragic happens, there is no timetable that can accurately be set to determine when, or if, someone will get over it, or at least get to the point where he or she can deal with it and get on with some semblance of a normal life.

With Stewart, the situation is compounded because the life he lived to begin with—that of a high-profile, star driver in NASCAR's premier national touring series—was never normal by the standards of most folks.

"I'm not going to speak for professional athletes in different forms of sports, but as a race car driver, driving a race car is all that consumed my life," Stewart admitted.

"It's all I thought about, it's all I cared about, and everything else was second on down the list of priorities for me. I think this has given me the opportunity to sit here and think about other aspects of my life and what they're going to mean to me in the future."

This could lead to a life of better balance for Stewart, one in which he is more cognizant of other things—and other people—around him. It's never advisable for a human being to pour all he is into one area of life at the expense of others.

It's also often a difficult road of change to travel at 43 years of age, when almost all you've ever known is focusing on racing cars when you're on the track and focusing on ways you can go faster in them when you're not.

Meanwhile, Stewart said he is willing to "be available" to talk to the grieving family of Ward, "if it helps them with closure." But Stewart also insisted that the incident in which the sprint car he was driving in a non-NASCAR-sanctioned event struck and killed Ward on a dirt track in New York was an accident.

At least three of Ward’s family members have reached out to various media outlets, including USA Today, and suggested that Stewart was negligent in his actions the night of Aug. 9.

But after all evidence from an extensive investigation by the Ontario County (N.Y) Sheriff’s Department was turned over to a grand jury, it was announced last Wednesday, per FoxSports.com, that no criminal charges would be filed against Stewart. Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo also said then that Ward was under the influence of marijuana during the night of the incident.

Stewart admitted that he has had a very difficult time emotionally, as far as handling what happened.

"I think the first three days that I was home (after it happened), I really didn’t do anything,” he said. “I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t care if I took a shower. I left my room to go get food, and that you almost had to make yourself eat.

"In the first three or four days, I didn’t want to talk to anybody, didn’t want to see anybody. I just wanted to be by myself."

Stewart did say that his return to the Sprint Cup Series, where he drives the No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, has been therapeutic for him. He sat out three races after the Aug. 9 tragedy, but returned to NASCAR’s premier series in Atlanta on Aug. 31 and has participated in five races since then.

He's been running poorly since returning, but did fare slightly better last Sunday in the AAA 400 at Dover, finishing 14th. Perhaps that's when the outside world will begin to know Stewart is doing better, when he starts earning finishes more like the Stewart of old on the NASCAR circuit.

Even though he has had a life-long passion for racing sprint cars on dirt, Stewart admitted he is not certain he will ever race them again. Stewart also reiterated more than once that his time away from racing has given him time to reevaluate all aspects of his life.

"Not that I don't love what I do, because I do love it," he said. "But there are more things to our lives than what we have as a profession. So it's made me think about some of those other aspects of my life that kind of have been on hold for years."

That, at least, might be one good byproduct of this.

Stewart said that even as he continues to grapple with attempting to return to some level of normalcy, he realizes his life can never be completely the same again. It changed forever the night of Aug. 9.

"I think about it a lot every day," he said. "That's the great thing about getting back in the race car, because it gives me time to forget about it for a minute and to stop thinking about it. But after you get done at the end of the day, you start thinking about it again. It's not something that goes away. It will never go away. It's always going to be part of my life the rest of my life. That's the unfortunate part.

"It's going to be part of my life. It's going to be part of the lives of Kevin's family, and it's never going to go away for any of us. But hopefully it will get easier for all of us." 

That seemingly is the most attainable goal for all parties involved, Stewart included. All the rest of us can do is pray that they get there some day.

Unless otherwise noted, all information was obtained firsthand.

Joe Menzer has written six books, including two about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report as well as covering NASCAR as a writer/editor for FoxSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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