TIME Auto Racing

NASCAR Changes Safety Rules After Driver’s Death

Cheez-It 355 At The Glen
Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, driven by Regan Smith, is pushed to the grid with police escort prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 10, 2014 in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Jeff Zelevansky—Getty Images

In the wake of Kevin Ward Jr's death

NASCAR announced new rules Friday to protect the safety of its drivers, a day after the funeral of Kevin Ward Jr., the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver struck and killed by Tony Stewart’s car during a race this month.

The new rules state that “at no time” should a driver or crew member approach another moving vehicle or the racing surface after an on track incident that prohibits the car from moving forward. The driver must then proceed as directed by safety officers and other cars “should slow down to a cautious speed” as already outlined by Nascar’s “Yellow Flag” rules. Nascar said it would handle potential penalties for infractions on a case by case basis.

Stewart could face criminal charges after striking Ward, who left his vehicle after it was clipped by Stewart’s car, sending his car crashing into the wall. Stewart has decided to not participate in Sunday’s Michigan International Speedway race as scheduled.

TIME Auto Racing

Stewart Sitting Out Michigan After Dirt-Car Death

(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — Tony Stewart says he will not race Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, skipping a second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup race since striking and killing a driver in a dirt-track race at a small New York track.

Stewart announced the decision Thursday. His plans for the rest of the season have not been determined.

Jeff Burton will drive Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet in Michigan.

Stewart also sat out Sunday at Watkins Glen, a day after he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car event in Canandaigua, New York. After Stewart clipped Ward’s car, sending it spinning, Ward got out of the car during the caution period, walked down the track and was hit by Stewart.

Ward’s funeral was Thursday in Boonville, New York.

Stewart’s dirt-racing career is on hold, and he could face criminal charges.

TIME Auto Racing

As Probe Begins, Stewart Steps Away From the Track

Authorities questioned the 43-year-old Tony Stewart once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again the next day

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(CANANDAIGUA, N.Y.) — The collision was as common as any in racing. Kevin Ward Jr.’s car spun twice like a top, wheels hugging the wall, before it plopped backward on the dimly lit dirt track.

In a sport steeped with bravado, what happened next was another familiar, but treacherous, move: Wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, the 20-year-old Ward unbuckled himself, climbed out of the winged car into the night and defiantly walked onto the track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

He gestured, making his disgust evident with the driver who triggered the wreck with a bump: three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.

Ward, a relative unknown compared to NASCAR’s noted swashbuckler, was nearly hit by another passing car as he pointed with his right arm in Stewart’s direction. As he confronted Stewart in his passing car, disaster struck.

Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him. According to video and witness accounts, Ward’s body was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.

Ward was killed. Stewart, considered one of the most proficient drivers in racing, dropped out of Sunday’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, hours after Saturday’s crash. And the sport was left reeling from a tragedy that could have ripple effects from the biggest stock car series down to weeknight dirt track racing.

“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.

Authorities questioned the 43-year-old Stewart once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. They described him as “visibly shaken” after the crash and said he was cooperative.

On Sunday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators also don’t have any evidence at this point in the investigation to support criminal intent. But he also said that criminal charges have not been ruled out.

The crash raised several questions: Will Ward’s death cause drivers to think twice about on-track confrontations? Did Stewart try and send his own message by buzzing Ward, the young driver, only to have his risky move turn fatal? Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesutsuit on a dark track?

The only one who may have that answer is Stewart.

David S. Weinsten, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice, said it would be difficult to prove criminal intent.

“I think even with the video, it’s going to be tough to prove that this was more than just an accident and that it was even culpable negligence, which he should’ve known or should’ve believed that by getting close to this guy, that it was going to cause the accident,” he said.

The sheriff renewed a plea for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash. Investigators were reconstructing the accident and looking into everything from the dim lighting on a portion of the track to how muddy it was, as well as if Ward’s dark firesuit played a role in his death, given the conditions.

Driver Cory Sparks, a friend of Ward’s, was a few cars back when Ward was killed.

“The timing was unsafe,” he said of Ward’s decision to get out of his car to confront Stewart. “When your adrenaline is going, and you’re taken out of a race, your emotions flare.”

It’s often just a part of racing. Drivers from mild-mannered Jeff Gordon to ladylike Danica Patrick have erupted in anger on the track at another driver. The confrontations are part of the sport’s allure: Fans love it and cheer wildly from the stands. Stewart, who has a reputation for being a hothead nicknamed “Smoke,” once wound up like a pitcher and tossed his helmet like a fastball at Matt Kenseth’s windshield.

“I’ve seen it many times in NASCAR, where a driver will confront the other one, and a lot of times they’ll try to speed past them. And that’s what it appeared to me as if what Tony Stewart did, he tried to speed past Ward,” witness Michael Messerly said. “And the next thing I could see, I didn’t see Ward any more. It just seemed like he was suddenly gone.”

The crash also raised questions about whether Stewart will continue with his hobby of racing on smalltracks on the side of the big-money NASCAR races. He has long defended his participation in racing ontracks like the one where the crash happened, even as accidents and injury have put his day job in NASCAR at risk.

Saturday’s crash came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa. The injury cost him the second half of the NASCAR season and sidelined him during NASCAR’s important Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Stewart only returned to sprint trackracing last month.

The crash site is the same track where Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.

“Everybody has hobbies,” he said last month, adding that “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.”

Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said Stewart felt strongly he should not race after the wreck. Regan Smith replaced him in his car.

“We’re racing with heavy hearts,” Smith said.

— AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer, AP Sports Writer John Kekis and AP Writer David Klepper contributed to this report. Gelston reported from Philadelphia.

TIME NASCAR

Tony Stewart Hits and Kills Driver in Sprint Car Race

20-year-old Kevin Ward exited his car during a race, and Stewart struck him on the track

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Updated 2:40 p.m.

NASCAR star Tony Stewart struck and killed 20-year-old race car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race Saturday night.

Stewart spun Ward out during the Canandaigua Motorsports Park sprint car race in upstate New York on Saturday and Ward angrily got out of his car and stepped into the track. Stewart’s vehicle struck Ward and sent him sliding down the cement, witnesses to the race told USA Today.

Ward was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

Local police said that the 43-year-old Stewart was “fully cooperative,” and that the incident was not being investigated as a criminal matter. Police are gathering interviews and video evidence of the incident, and are awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Stewart released a statement through his racing team Stewart-Haas Racing, NBC reports.

“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” he said. “It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”

A video uploaded on YouTube purports to show the incident. (Warning: it’s disturbing.)

Early eyewitness accounts corroborate the video. When Stewart’s car struck him, Ward had exited his car and was pointing at Stewart’s car as he approached on the ensuing caution lap, witnesses said.

“Tony came around … the back end slid out, and he definitely caught him – I couldn’t tell if it was with the front or the back of the car,” said witness Adam Dulski. “The body made contact with the car and went sliding across the track. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

Stewart had intended to compete in a NASCAR race on Sunday but pulled out early in the day, the Associated Press reports.

[USA Today]

TIME Auto Racing

The Indy 500: The Greatest Spectacle in Racing

Gentlemen, start your engines.

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It’s Memorial Day weekend, which means pools are opining for the summer, families are firing up their grills and drivers are starting their engines for the greatest spectacle in racing: the Indy 500.

Indy car racers have gathered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1911 to run the 500-miles-over-200-laps race with the hopes of taking the checkered flag. So sit down and pay attention, because TIME’s going to explain everything you need to know about the Indy 500 from the green flag to the victory milk swig. But don’t blink, because these cars move fast.

TIME Auto Racing

WATCH: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Fiery Crash in NASCAR’s Duck Commander 500

The driver earned his first last-place finish since 2007 as a result of the crash. Rival Joey Logano won the race in extra laps, edging out Jeff Gordon.

Famed NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. crashed during the Duck Commander 500 in Fort Worth, Texas on Monday after hitting a patch of wet grass and blowing out a tire. The race had already been postponed on Sunday due to poor weather conditions. The driver then drove into the outside wall and his No. 88 Chevrolet caught fire. As a result of the crash, Earnhardt Jr. was guaranteed to finish 43rd, his first last-place finish since 2007, the Associated Press reports. The driver was not hurt.

Joey Logano went on to win the race in a last-lap pass of rival Jeff Gordon.

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