SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The theatrics and fireworks of NASCAR’s brand of road-course racing was omnipresent as usual at Watkins Glen International, but so was an underlying solemn tone of remembrance after the events of the night before.
While A.J. Allmendinger celebrated his first Sprint Cup Series victory in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and the sealing of his postseason fate on Aug. 10, a strong portion of his thoughts were clearly devoted to Kevin Ward Jr., the 20-year-old victim of a sprint-car incident involving Tony Stewart.
“I think it’s one of those things that you look back at and it’s a tough time for everybody,” said Allmendinger. “I said on TV after the race, this NASCAR community, as a whole we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about.
“And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.
“You just try to come together. That’s all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we’re able to share together, and you also know that there’s a lot less fortunate out there and there’s a lot of disasters, whether it’s in racing or not. You just try to keep that in perspective and always have your thoughts and prayers and do whatever you can to help out and be better with it.”
No criminal charges pending
Ward was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital Saturday night after he was struck while on foot by Stewart’s sprint car during a 25-lap main event for the touring Empire Super Sprints series at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, a half-mile dirt track on the Ontario County Fairgrounds. The county sheriff’s office continue to investigate the incident and said Sunday that no criminal charges are pending.
Stewart was absent at the track Sunday with NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith replacing him in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet. Several of Stewart’s fellow Sprint Cup drivers declined comment on the incident, with some saying details were too sparse to make an informed statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ward family,” said third-place finisher Kurt Busch, a first-year teammate to Stewart at the Stewart-Haas operation. “It was a tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved. It’s a tough situation for the motorsports world. I’m not at liberty really to speak anymore of it.”
While the mood of Allmendinger’s JTG Daugherty team was buoyant after that operation’s first win in NASCAR’s premier series, the organization’s brass was quick to temper their joy in light of the recent events.
“Obviously just a catastrophic evening last evening,” said team co-owner Brad Daugherty, also an ESPN analyst. “Our sympathies go out to the family that lost the young man. And it’s been a difficult day for the StewartHaas organization. We all recognize that and we all feel like we’re all family because we travel 36 weeks out of the year it seems like 100 years together. Our hearts go out to Tony, but specifically out to the family.
“It’s a tremendous loss, and I thought that StewartHaas and Tony and those guys did the right thing by showing the appropriate respect to the situation as well as the family – more importantly to the family by not racing today. We’ll see what unfolds of that, but our thoughts and prayers go out to that family.”