(Adds comment from driver, analyst, background, recasts)
By Letitia Stein
Aug 10 Veteran NASCAR champion Tony Stewart
retreated from competition on Sunday after he struck and killed
an aggrieved young driver walking on a dirt track in a
low-stakes race, in an incident highlighting the risks and
bravado around car racing.
Authorities in New York state said that they had found no
evidence of criminal behavior and that Stewart, a tempestuous
racer and one of the highest-paid drivers in NASCAR, was
cooperating with investigations into Saturday night's death.
Earlier in the day, the 43-year-old Stewart withdrew from
Sunday's high-profile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen,
New York, but only after a storm of criticism on social media
when a team official told reporters that Stewart was proceeding
with "business as usual."
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said no evidence of
criminal intent had been found in the death of driver Kevin Ward
"At this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would
substantiate or support a criminal charge, or indicate criminal
intent on the part of any individual," Povero told a news
In the low-stakes race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park,
about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Rochester, Stewart appeared
to have clipped Ward's car and caused it to spin out of the
race, according to videos posted online.
Ward, of Port Leyden, New York, stepped out of his car and
onto the track as he seemed to gesture at Stewart, a three-time
NASCAR champion, before he was struck and killed, according to
The crash occurred on a dimly lit section of track and the
race was under a yellow flag, or caution, Povero said.
Ward was pronounced dead at a hospital. WSYR-TV in Syracuse
reported that Ward's family was at the track at the time of the
"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the
accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said in
Stewart, of Columbus, Indiana, is NASCAR's fourth-highest
paid driver, with an estimated $17.3 million in earnings this
year, according to Forbes.
His sponsors include Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Coca-Cola and
Chevrolet. Stewart co-owns Stewart-Hass Racing, a four-car
outfit whose drivers include female standout Danica Patrick.
A.J. Allmendinger, the winner of Sunday's NASCAR event,
offered condolences to the Ward family.
"We are racing with heavy hearts today," he said on the ESPN
Ricky Craven, an ESPN analyst and former NASCAR Cup driver,
said on ESPN he thought a rule was needed that a driver would be
penalized if he or she left a car before a security crew
He added that there was a 50-50 chance that Stewart would
compete next week at NASCAR's Pure Michigan 400.
NASCAR, which was not involved in the Saturday race, endorsed
Stewart's withdrawal from the Watkins Glen race. It said in a
statement that it was monitoring the situation.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is the
sanctioning body for one the most popular sports in the United
States. It oversees more than 1,200 races that are broadcast in
more than 150 countries and in 20 languages.
More Fortune 500 companies participate in NASCAR than any
other sport, according to the racing body.
Stewart began his career on dirt tracks and enjoys going
back to his roots, despite the modest pay compared with the
Stewart has occasionally gotten into fights with other
drivers, including a shoving match with Joey Logano at the Auto
Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Fontana, California, last
Among his most celebrated accomplishments was racing in 2001
in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte,
North Carolina, on the same day. He is the only driver to
complete all 1,100 miles (1,800 km) in what is known in racing
circles as Double Duty.
Stewart was involved in an accident at Canandaigua in July
2013 that injured another driver.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, Steve Ginsburg
in Washington, Victoria Cavaliere in New York and Lewis Franck
in North Carolina; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Ian Simpson;
Editing by Mary Milliken, Marguerita Choy and Eric Walsh)