Racing or not, Stewart will never forget Ward
August 12, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Complete coverage of Tony Stewart incident
Tony Stewart is scheduled to race this weekend when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to Michigan International Speedway for the second of two annual stops at the 2-mile track located in the Irish Hills.
That he could be back behind the wheel barely a week after Saturday night's tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park may surprise some race fans. It might infuriate others.
If he chooses to race, he'll be painted as callous and self-centered by some.
If he chooses to race, he'll be welcomed back, quietly and discretely, by others.
Regardless of the decision he ultimately makes, none of those assigning blame or offering support will have to endure what Stewart now faces.
That's not to ignore the pain and suffering of the family of Kevin Ward Jr., by any means. The family of the 20-year-old sprint car racer now faces a future without a beloved son and a cherished brother.
That will not be altered by whatever Stewart does or does not do in the coming days, weeks or months. A life was lost and there's nothing anyone can do to change that terrible fact.
Ward died Saturday night after being struck by Stewart's sprint car, only moments after the two vehicles had made contact. Ward had exited his car and approached Stewart's when he was hit.
The Ontario County (New York) Sheriff's Department is in charge of the investigation. Sheriff Philip C. Povero said Saturday night that the fatality was being investigated "as an on-track crash" and no criminal charges were pending at this time.
Whether Stewart, a three-time champion in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series who withdrew from Sunday's event at Watkins Glen, should or should not be competing on the local level isn't for others to decide.
Stewart owns the car, pays the crew and is able to choose the races in which he competes. He understands the risks that come with racing the high-powered, winged cars -- a wreck last August left Stewart with a broken leg and ended his NASCAR season with 15 races remaining.
For six months he worked to return to competition, never wavering when asked if he would continue to race sprint cars in addition to his Stewart-Haas Racing duties on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Now, he'll face those same questions but for a much different reason.
For the second time in a year, Stewart's racing career is at a crossroads. Physical limitations were the primary concern following his injury last year.
This one goes much, much deeper.
Eventually, Stewart will race again, whether Sunday at Michigan or somewhere else in the coming weeks. And there will be those that believe his return means that he's put Saturday night's terrible accident behind him.
They will be wrong.
Stewart will race again. But he'll never forget what happened Saturday night at Canandaigua.
It'll still be there, tomorrow, next week and next year. Always.