|Photo: Kevin Liles, USAToday|
Tony Stewart spoke briefly with the media today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his first public appearance since the Aug. 9 incident at New York’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park that took the life of driver Kevin Ward, Jr.
Stewart read a prepared statement, just hours after confirming that he will return to competition this weekend after missing the previous three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion called the incident, “one of the toughest tragedies I have ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life."
Stewart also referenced each of Ward's immediate family members by name, saying, "The pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine. I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., and his mother, Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them."
He said his three-week hiatus from competition came out of respect for the Ward family, and allowed him to "cope with the accident in my own way.
"It has given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted," he said.
He declined to field questions from the media, citing the ongoing investigation by the Ontario County Sheriff's Department, but added, "Emotionally, I'm not sure I can answer them anyway."
He said he hopes a return to competition this weekend will prove therapeutic, adding, "I miss my team, my teammates (and) I miss being back in the race car. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time."