Flagrant 2: Tony Stewart and a Tragedy at the Track - Rolling Stone
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Flagrant 2: Tony Stewart and a Tragedy at the Track

The death of racer Kevin Ward Jr. sends shockwaves through NASCAR, and beyond

Tony Stewart flagrant 2Tony Stewart flagrant 2

Tony Stewart

Rick Yeatts/Getty Images for ExxonMobil

It was a busy weekend in sports: Rory McIlroy won his fourth major title at the PGA Championship, there were 19-inning games on consecutive days – Angels-Red Sox on Saturday, Jays-Tigers on Sunday – for the first time in MLB history and the NFL continued its inexorable march towards relevancy (otherwise known as the preseason).

But the story that dominated discussion happened at a sprint car race in Canandaigua, New York, where 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed after being struck by Tony Stewart’s car. Ward had left his vehicle to confront Stewart following a crash, and though the tragedy occurred at an event that was anything but NASCAR sanctioned, it reverberated through the sport…and beyond.

A Tragedy at the Track

According to first-hand accounts of the incident, Stewart’s actions may not have been accidental. While the intention was obviously not the end result, in the heat of the moment, emotions were running high. As of last night, the police were investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed against Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.

Immediately, attention turned to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen on Sunday, where Stewart was scheduled to race. Initially, Greg Zipadelli, vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, said it would be “business as usual,” a response that seemed insensitive to many. But on Sunday morning, the team changed course and said Stewart would be sitting out.

Stewart himself released a statement, saying “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. … My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”

Despite Stewart’s withdrawal from the race, NASCAR’s official Twitter account also was in a rush to move on, telling everyone that “with heavy hearts, we turn our attention to today’s race.” They deleted the tweet soon after.

Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports made a great point, perhaps the only one that matters in this tragedy:  We should not turn Kevin Ward Jr. into just a conversation point, but try to get to know him – since most of us hadn’t heard of him until this weekend, or now – and remember that a 20-year-old man is no longer with us, thanks to an incident that didn’t need to happen.

Johnny Football, Preseason Edition

Cleveland Browns (backup?) quarterback Johnny Manziel made his preseason debut on Saturday against the Detroit Lions.

He threw for 63 yards and rushed for 27 more, and more importantly, wasn’t caught at a club hanging out with Drake or using the money phone afterward.

Manziel’s competition for QB spot, Brian Hoyer, started the game, and played into the second quarter. But, for better or (probably) worse, this was the Johnny Football show. Oh, and for the record – and again, by that we mean for those who gambled on a preseason game out of boredom – the Lions won 13-12. Hope you took the under.

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