Tony Stewart should be in no hurry to return to racing
BROOKLYN, Mich -- Here at Michigan Speedway, the mood on Friday is usually one of anticipation for the weekend -- who will be fast, who will contend for the win, who has Chase implications this week, maybe some Silly Season questions to round things up.
But this Friday, it is very different, we are one week removed from the tragic death of Kevin Ward, Jr. at a small dirt track in New York, killed by a sprint car driven by NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.
The New York Times is here asking questions about NASCAR/auto racing safety ... Too bad that kind of attention couldn't come to NASCAR over something more positive.
There are many issues surrounding this case, and the first one I'm going to tackle is Tony Stewart's future -- specifically when/if he will return to a NASCAR track, a sprint car track or any track.
First, let me say this is not the most important part of the story (obviously our thoughts should be with the Ward family as they have just buried their son due to this horrible situation). But the world does go on, so we're going to have to talk about this less-important stuff as this story plays out.
The Stewart-Haas Racing team told media Friday morning at Michigan Speedway that Tony is in an undisclosed location (they are not saying where) and is surrounded by his closest family and friends as he tries to comes to grips with what happened last weekend. He has chosen to take this week off to continue the grieving process and has Jeff Burton driving the #14 car this week (a car that, by the way, was already having some rear end issues in the first practice Friday afternoon).
Brett Frood, executive vice president of SHR, said Friday that:
"This decision was Tony's. An emotional week for him. He's grieving. Made the decision he's not ready to get in the racecar and will take it week by week. It will be up to Tony when he's ready to get back in the car."
The team will not say what future weeks hold, only that the decision to return to the racecar is all Tony Stewart's -- when he is ready, he will be back.
My take on this: Why hurry back?
I can only imagine what it's like for someone in Tony's situation. Most people (with the exception of Nancy Grace -- who knows nothing about racing) agree that this really was just a tragic accident, and don't think Tony is a killer who mowed down Ward in anger.
But that doesn't change the fact that a young man is dead. And it's not going to be easy for Tony to get that out of his mind. The last thing you want in a racecar is a distracted driver.
Yes, I am aware that strapping into a racecar is one way to shut out the world and focus on your job -- but that logic might not apply in this case. To give a comparison, if a police officer has an incident where somebody is killed accidentally or in the line of duty, they are usually given time off while the investigation is ongoing and for them to get the counseling needed.
I would say this is a similar situation. Until the investigation is complete into this incident, I see no reason why Tony Stewart should or would want to a racecar.
His Chase hopes are pretty much dead already (he is not going to win in the next few weeks even if he does come back -- and might be disqualified already for not showing up at MIS), and his car has been far from competitive.
Eventually Tony will have to make a choice about his future racing career. I'm guessing he'll be back in the 14 car at some point -- probably later this year or for sure by next season. But will he continue to race in the sprint cars on dirt tracks, like he loves so much? That's a big question, because it's his first love in racing and may be even harder for him to give up than the big series where he earns his paycheck.
That's all decisions for down the line though -- for now Tony should keep his thoughts with the Ward family (and do what he can to help them out, if legally possible), wait for the investigation to play out, and for himself he needs to focus on coming to grips with this situation and accept it for what it was -- a terrible accident.
Any dicussions involving a return to racing should mean very little to him right now.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MattMyftiu.