NASCAR champ Tony Stewart pulls out of race after hits, kills driver

Sun Aug 10, 2014 4:21pm EDT
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By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - NASCAR champion Tony Stewart dropped out of a race on Sunday, hours after fatally running over a driver at a dirt track in New York state, casting a shadow over one of the sport's most accomplished and highly paid drivers.

Stewart, 43, faced a wave of criticism on social media when it appeared he planned to compete in the Sprint Cup series at Watkins Glen International, with a team official telling media that he was proceeding with "business as usual."

A sheriff in upstate New York investigating the death of the 20-year-old racer said they had not found so far any evidence of criminal intent in Saturday's incident and that Stewart was cooperating with authorities.

"At this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge, or indicate criminal intent on the part of any individual," Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero told a news conference on Sunday.

Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, is one of the few drivers who co-owns his team, Stewart-Hass Racing, a four-car outfit whose drivers include female standout Danica Patrick.

In the relatively low-stakes and chaotic race, Stewart hit Kevin Ward, Jr., who stepped out of his car and onto the track as he seemed to gesture toward Stewart after the NASCAR veteran appeared to have clipped his car and caused it to spin out of the race, according to videos of the incident posted online.

“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said in a statement. "It’s a very emotional time for all involved."

Stewart is NASCAR's fourth-highest paid driver, with an estimated $17.3 million in earnings this year, according to Forbes. The unmarried race car driver lives in his native Columbus, Indiana.   Continued...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart speaks with crew members during practice for the Daytona 500 qualifying at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, in this file photo taken February 16, 2013.    REUTERS/Brian Blanco/Files