AJ Allmendinger’s first victory on the NASCAR Sprint Cup stage should have been the major story coming out of Watkins Glen, New York this weekend.
Allmendinger was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for failing a random drug test just hours before the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July of 2012.
The failed drug test sent Allmendinger’s career into a spiral that he is now beginning to come out of. After bouncing from ride to ride after losing his job with Penske Racing and sitting out three months, Allmendinger has found a home with JTG Daugherty Racing, a team co-owned by former UNC hoops standout Brad Daugherty.
But Allmendinger’s victory has been lost in the mix after the events surrounding the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.
Ward was struck and killed by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart Saturday evening at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a small dirt track an hour or so from Watkins Glen.
There are hundreds of questions surrounding the incident, but only two seem to matter right now.
The first is if Stewart should have been racing hours before he was set to take the green flag in a NASCAR event. The other is if Stewart’s temper may have gotten the best of him or was it an accident caused by poor judgment by everyone involved.
The initial question about Stewart’s decision to continue racing on dirt tracks and other smaller venues away from his job as the owner and driver for the Stewart-Haas team is very valid. It has only been just over a year since Stewart suffered a broken leg from an accident while driving a sprint car in a race in Iowa.
After missing the final half of the NASCAR season with his injury, Stewart has struggled in his return. Stewart has posted two top-five and six top-10 finishes. Not what is expected from the three-time Sprint Cup champion.
Stewart defended his choice to continue his side racing last month by stating: “Everybody has hobbies…there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that.”
That is true, but no one sees or hears about LeBron James or Kevin Durant playing pick-up basketball games at their local YMCA just because they love their sport.
The second question is in the hands of Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero and his staff as they investigate the moments leading up to Ward being struck by Stewart’s car.
Stewart is known as a “hot head” at times and has said some things that could lead one to draw the conclusion he was possibly trying to make a point with Ward.
As the pair are heading into a corner, Stewart and Ward make contact. Ward’s car gets pushed up towards the wall as his right rear tire goes flat. A frustrated Ward gets out of his wrecked car and walks down the track to show his displeasure with Stewart.
What happens next is up to one’s interpretation. For those who have the need to see the video of the event, it is available on several websites.
When Stewart comes back around, Ward is standing in the middle of the track. Stewart’s car appears to fishtail when he hits the gas and hits the young driver. Ward is sent flying into the air and lands nearly 50 feet from the impact.
Despite the efforts of the track’s medical staff and first responders, Ward died from his injuries. And now Stewart will have to not only live with this for the rest of his life, but he will have to wait and see if Povero will file any charges in connection with Ward’s death.
Let’s hope the criminal investigation will wrap up quickly so Stewart and Ward’s family can attempt to put the incident behind them and look to the future.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.