That much was clear in a 30-minute press conference Monday morning at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters in Kannapolis, N.C.
Stewart’s life has been irrevocably changed since Aug. 9, the night 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. ran onto the racing surface at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Upstate New York, where seconds later he was struck by Stewart’s sprint car and was killed.
A 23-member grand jury in Ontario County (N.Y.) concluded that Stewart did nothing that warranted criminal charges.
Publicly, the Ward family has blamed Stewart, even though Kevin Ward was found to be under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash. The Ward family still could file a civil suit against Stewart, alleging wrongful death.
Stewart missed three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races after the crash and was in virtual seclusion in his Indiana home. Gradually, he has begun the process of trying to resume his normal life, and Monday’s press conference was the next step in that process.
But it was painfully apparent that it will be a long, long time before Stewart’s world will look anything like it did before the crash.
“It’s just been awkward because I know what a typical day was like for me and the things that were on my agenda for each day and what I thought about. You kind of get in that pattern,” said Stewart. “This was something that obviously changed that pattern drastically. Everything you thought about, everything you worked on, you stop thinking about, you stopped working on, and this is all you thought about.”
the crash has consumed him so much that he hasn’t been able to attend to the business of running Stewart-Haas as much as he should.
“I’ve let my team down from that standpoint,” he said. “I haven’t been able to — I’ve been a little bit of a cheerleader, but that’s about all I’ve been able to contribute here the last seven weeks. It’s just … it’s been hard for me to function day-to-day. There hasn’t been anything normal about my life the last seven weeks, so it’s been very hard to try to do anything to be productive to help those guys. You try to be a cheerleader, you try to keep them pumped up about what they’re do being, but other than that, I haven’t been able to contribute too much.”
Stewart, of course, is one of NASCAR’s biggest stars, and this story has brought a flood of publicity in the media and opinions on social media. Stewart said he was dismayed by some of what he has heard and read.
“To me it’s worthless to pick sides,” Stewart said. “A young man lost his life, and I don’t care what side you’re on, it doesn’t change that. His family’s in mourning. I’m in mourning. My family is in mourning. Picking sides isn’t solving or fixing anything. It’s a waste of time to pick sides.
“Instead of honoring a young man that had a promising racing career, people are picking sides and throwing — it’s like watching people throw darts at each other,” said Stewart. “It’s disappointing at this point, honestly, because instead of supporting each other and the racing community is such a strong family, it’s dividing people that on a daily basis would help each other. There is no point in it. It doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t fix anything. At the end of the day, it’s not going to make anybody feel any better about it.”
The aftermath of the accident has changed Stewart. He is getting psychological counseling now and he said Monday he’s re-examining how he spends his time away from the race car.
“As a race-car driver, driving a race car is all that consumed my life,” said Stewart. “It’s all I thought about, it’s all I cared about, and everything else was second on down the list of priorities for me. I think this has given me the opportunity to sit here and think about other aspects of my life and what they’re going to mean to me in the future. … There are more things to our life than what we have as a profession. So it’s made me think about some of those other aspects of my life that kind of have been put on hold for years.”
For now, Stewart told reporters, he’s going to try to resume his life as normal.
“I think after talking with you guys today we’ll start getting back into doing meet and greets and appearances again,” Stewart said. “I think it’s important for me to do that and to take — I think that’s another step of making forward progress is getting back to trying to resume what was the best of a normal life before this. I think it’s important for me to do that and get back to doing it as soon as possible.”