Court documents tell two sides in Ward family lawsuit against Tony Stewart

12 Comments

Tony Stewart denied turning up the track toward Kevin Ward Jr. in a 171-page deposition that was released this week as part of court documents in the Ward family’s lawsuit against Stewart.

The Ward family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Aug. 7, 2015, nearly a year after the 20-year-old Ward was struck and killed by Stewart during an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. A grand jury ruled Sept. 24, 2014, that Stewart would not face criminal charges.

Stewart seeks a summary judgement. A hearing is scheduled April 28 in U.S. District Court in Utica, New York.

Stewart and Ward had been racing together when Ward spun into the wall — Stewart claimed in his deposition he did not hit Ward, while others have countered that in their depositions.

After the incident, Ward exited his car and walked down the track.

Here’s what happened next, based on court documents:

ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION REPORTS FILED

Both sides have submitted reports that detailed what happened.

The report on behalf of Stewart states: “When (Chuck) Hebing (who was in front of Stewart’s car) was passing by him, Mr. Ward shuffled his feet and moved about 0.7 feet up the track. But, as soon as Mr. Hebing passed him, Mr. Ward continued moving parallel to the track and also took a step about 1.5 to 2.3 feet down the track, towards and into the path of Mr. Stewart’s car.”

The report on behalf of the Ward family views the matter in a different way. It states: “Immediately prior to impact, Mr. Ward remained relatively stationary and remained outside the path where six preceding Sprint Cars had passed his location without incident. Therefore, Mr. Ward did not cause the impact with (Stewart’s car) but was rather the victim of Mr. Stewart directing his (car) toward his location.’’

The report filed on behalf of Stewart addresses Stewart’s car in the moments before and after striking Ward: “In this case, the inputs to get the car to drive around and avoid contact with Mr. Ward include steering to the left and/or applying some throttle to assist the car’s counterclockwise rotation. We know from the video stills discussed above that the car was pointed towards the infield and traveled down track while in the field of view of the camera. It would take about 1 second for the car to respond to the driver’s steering and throttle inputs.

“That would mean that the driver of the car, Mr. Stewart, had to perceive and react to the emergency of Mr. Ward’s appearance before the full appearance of Mr. Ward from behind Mr. Hebing’s #45 car. Given the typical perception-reaction time of 1.0 to 1.5 seconds for a normal driver in an emergency, and the fact that the track was under caution and the drivers were not racing, Mr. Stewart’s perception-reaction time was reasonable given the visibility, lighting, and unexpected motion of Mr. Ward prior to Mr. Stewart’s car arriving at Mr. Ward’s position.

“In summary, Mr. Stewart simply did not have enough time to react to Mr. Ward’s unpredictable actions and successfully avoid hitting him.’’

The report on behalf of the Ward family also sees that incident differently: “It is apparent Mr. Stewart intentionally caused his vehicle to move towards Mr. Ward by aggressively adding throttle input while counter steering through the turn.’’

TONY STEWART’S DEPOSITION

Stewart gave a deposition Dec. 8, 2016. The full transcript was filed earlier this week by Ward’s side in opposition of Stewart seeking a summary judgment. Ward’s father and mother attended Stewart’s deposition, which took place in Indianapolis.

In his deposition, Stewart was asked about the incident. This was how he answered questions on the matter.

Q. All right. After you saw his car, you saw him; he was on the track?

A. After I — yeah, after I saw his car, then I saw him.

Q. Okay. And —

A. Or a figure. I didn’t know that it was him but I saw —

Q. Fair enough. You saw a person on the track?

A. Yes.

Q. When you saw the car, you knew just procedure, that your pass was to be low?

A. Yeah, he was all the way to the outside — the car was all the way to the outside of the track, so anywhere that we went was going to be below it.

Q. All right. So where were you driving your car when you entered turn 1 as on the track? Middle of the track? Low track? High part of the track?

A. I really don’t remember. I mean, typically you would run somewhere in the middle of the racetrack.

Q. Okay. When you saw Mr. — when you saw the car that was disabled at the top part of the track, did you steer your vehicle in any direction that you recall?

A. No. I was already underneath the vehicle.

Q. You were underneath it. Okay. So you did not change the line that you were on based on your realizing where the car was that was disabled was on the track; is that fair?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. Now, in relation to the car that was on the track, where was the person that you saw on the track?

A. Initially when I saw the car, I didn’t realize there wasn’t a driver in the car.

Q. But at some point you did?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. And when you saw that person, did you from that point on change the direction of your vehicle based on seeing that person on the track?

A. It was a split second from the time that I saw a person until I got to the person.

Q. Okay. Is that a “no”?

A. I attempted to change direction.

Q. Okay. You don’t recall — and when you say you “attempted to change direction,” you attempted to change direction to the left down the track?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. It’s your testimony that you did not at any time after seeing Mr. Ward’s car or Mr. Ward on the track steer your car up the track?

A. No, sir.

DEPOSITIONS FROM OTHER DRIVERS IN AUG. 2014 SPRINT CAR RACE

Chuck Hebing, who was in that race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and running ahead of Stewart under caution as they approached the area where Ward wrecked, described what happened in his deposition:

“(Ward) was coming down the track. I thought he was actually coming to my car. Me and Kevin have — I might have ran him out of room in that race, so I thought he might have been mad at me. Came at my car. I gassed it, swerved away from him and said to myself that “Next guy in line was probably going to hit him.”

Jessica Zemken-Friesen, who dated Stewart in 2011, also was competing in the race and running behind Stewart under caution. In her deposition, she described what she saw:

A. I was following Tony, and I – they were saying on the radio to stay low, and I was lower on the track, and I was behind him, right directly behind him pulling into turn one and two, and they were telling us to stay low. And I started to come down a little bit, and I could see Tony’s left front wheel turn to the right, closer in the direction of where Kevin was up higher on the racetrack. Um, and then I could see, um, I was just underneath him, and I could look up and see – I could see Kevin still there in front of his car with his hands in the air. And I saw the rear of the car stand up and the – the dust come off the rear tires as Tony hit the throttle.

Q. And then?

A. And then when he – when he hit the throttle the rear of the car came around and the front end of the car went to the left, the car got sideways, and he struck Kevin.’’

Later, Zemken-Friesen was asked:

Q. Do you think Mr. Stewart intentionally hit Mr. Ward?

A. I don’t know what he was thinking or what was going through his mind. I just was behind it and saw what I saw.’

MORE OF TONY STEWART DEPOSITION

Stewart was asked about his temper and various penalties he had been given in NASCAR for his actions, as Ward’s side seeks to show that Stewart has a history of his anger dictating his actions.

Q. All right. Would you say that you have had a — had some issues with your anger throughout the course of your life?

A. Occasionally.

Q. And have you, in fact, sought any counseling or treatment for that?

A. No, sir.

Q. Never had any anger management or counseling or any formalized process to help you with anger?

A. No, sir.

Stewart then was asked about incidents with Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. He also was asked about an incident with Kurt Busch inside the NASCAR hauler at Daytona International Speedway.

Q. Have you had any physical confrontations with any other drivers or people that were related to races where there were any punches thrown or shoves gone back and forth?

A. Kurt Busch.

Q. What happened with Kurt Busch?

A. We had an altercation inside the NASCAR trailer with the officials.

Q. Did you punch Mr. Busch or shove him?

A. Yes.

Q. And who precipitated that physical confrontation, you or Mr. Busch?

A. I did.

Q. And what was — why were you — why did you initiate a physical confrontation with Mr. Busch?

A. For lack of better terms, he initiated the — basically he was antagonizing us in front of the NASCAR officials and very inappropriately.

Q. And but with words?

A. Yes.

Q. And you responded with physical aggression?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. Is it a fair sum-up or not for some of the stuff we’ve just gone through to say that various times you’ve used your fists, your helmet and your car as a tool — as tools of physical force against other racers?

MR. SMIKLE: I’m going to object to the form of the question. It’s vague and ambiguous.

But go ahead and answer.

THE WITNESS: What you’ve shown is — I’ve raced for 38 years, I’ve raced over 1,500 races and what you’ve shown is less than 1 percent of the races that I participated in NASCAR. So altercations like that happen amongst drivers every week. So this is not un — this isn’t out of the ordinary for our sport.

 and on Facebook

Ryan: Chip Ganassi perfectly suited for shepherding Kyle Larson’s career, and the Michigan win showed why

Leave a comment

Owning a NASCAR team is a stressful business, which was best exemplified by Chip Ganassi’s celebration of Kyle Larson’s victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

As he pounded on the shoulders, faces and backs of crew chief, driver, engineer and anyone who happened to be clad in a red-and-white uniform within arm’s length of his hammering fists, Ganassi engaged in the most demonstrative paroxysm of nationally televised stress relief in NASCAR history.

The moment was pure Ganassi, whose gruff and hard-boiled exterior belies the fact that he delicately and deftly is juggling the oversight of enough racing teams to qualify for lifetime FIA membership.

So what might be on the mind lately of the owner of entries in Cup, Xfinity, IMSA, IndyCar and the World Endurance Championship?

Oh, not much.

–After already contractually guaranteeing Larson the right to run 25 races annually on dirt — but never the night before a Cup race — Ganassi lifted a restriction and allowed his franchise driver another shot to race a vehicle whose accepted occupational hazards include a propensity for violently flipping end over end.

–Ganassi acquiesced to that request (after constant fan goading on social media) while still hunting for a primary sponsor to replace the eight-figure void being left by Target next year on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet.

–Meanwhile, Ganassi’s IndyCar team has managed to win only one of the first 13 races of the season, and reliable championship contender Scott Dixon just fell out of the points lead (for the first time in two months) with four races remaining.

That would seem a lot of stress, but it goes with the territory for Ganassi, whose public persona sometimes is a rough-around-the-edges and sometimes combative forcefulness that has carried his teams through sponsor departures and disappointing seasons.

On the morning of last month’s Brickyard 400, he berated a reporter who wrote Larson’s team had been “tainted” by multiple run-ins with NASCAR officials earlier this summer. It isn’t the first time Ganassi, who voraciously consumes the auto racing media’s coverage (which doesn’t go unappreciated by those of us who talk or write about the sport), has taken umbrage at how a reporter has characterized one of his teams.

This is another thing to know about Ganassi’s working relationships: As fiercely as he celebrates with them, he also stands up for his guys.

Most importantly, he stands up for Larson, who is a critical key to the future of American auto racing.

Other NASCAR team owners covet him, but there is no better caretaker than Ganassi – and not just because he dipped into his own cash reserves (which don’t run as deep as those belonging to Roger Penske or Rick Hendrick and their billion-dollar automotive empires) to get Larson’s signature on an iron-clad (but lucrative) contract for several years.

The bond between driver and owner started six years ago when Ganassi saw enough of the generational talent in Larson to invest in a path to Cup without the benefit of sponsor money when no one else would. It was a shrewd move (just as it was to accelerate Larson into Cup after a season in Xfinity) that might fall short of ever receiving proper credit because its ramifications could be so far-reaching.

Larson, 25, is a linchpin to the NASCAR youth movement, which will be punctuated when he wins his first championship (and he might be the 2017 title favorite if he reaches the final round given his sterling record and affinity for Homestead-Miami Speedway).

But he is nearly as important to the growth and progress of racing in this country. He currently is the most rock-solid bridge between big-league auto racing and grass-roots short tracks. When Larson runs the Indianapolis 500 (and Ganassi’s capitulation on the Knoxville Nationals last week shows it’s only a matter of time), he will cement his reputation as his generation’s answer to Foyt or Andretti, the legends who can win in any vehicle they choose to wheel.

The last two restarts at Michigan reaffirmed that Larson’s talent is undeniable, but it also has needed proper nurturing for an emerging star who didn’t come from a racing family steeped in the connections and knowledge to secure the necessary breaks to break through in modern-day NASCAR. Larson probably could have been successful with any team, but it’s hard to envision his development in stock cars going more seamlessly than with Ganassi.

It’s taken the unwavering belief and support of a team owner (with the mentality of a former driver) who must be mindful of balancing Larson’s personal happiness with his vested interests in the good of Chip Ganassi Racing, along with the greater good of spreading the racing gospel.

That’s a lot of pressure to shoulder for Ganassi, who spent the past couple seasons tailoring his Cup organization to maximize the prodigious ability of Larson.

Chip deserves a slap on the back.

XXX

While the primary motivation for permitting moonlighting in sprint cars is Larson’s contentment, there might be ancillary advantages for Ganassi’s Cup teams – namely, Larson’s performance on restarts.

When Tony Stewart won the 2011 championship, his memorable late-season surge of five victories in 10 races was made on the strength of some impressive restarts (notably his race-winning move on Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville Speedway). The three-time champion (and some of his crew chiefs) credited his side trips to dirt tracks (which are filled with shorter feature races and many opportunities for timing a flag) with helping sharpen his anticipation for pounding the accelerator. The opportunity to race on dirt at his leisure was a major reason he became a driver-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing (he was restricted at Joe Gibbs Racing).

It’s worth asking if the extracurricular dirt racing has made a similar impact on Larson, whose Michigan win excised the memory of some disappointing restarts that cost him wins in races bookending the 2016 and ’17 seasons. Though the start of Sunday’s race might have been among the most disappointing of his career, he was on his game when it mattered.

Beyond the track, Ganassi’s decision to allow Larson to run Knoxville was a social media hit, both in the unveiling via dual videos by Ganassi and Larson to the traction from the #LetKyleRace hashtag. That can’t hurt a team searching for a sponsor.

XXX

Seemingly all of the focus for how Larson won Michigan was on the final restart, but as Steve Letarte explained on NASCAR America this week, it was the previous restart and crew chief Chad Johnston’s strategy that positioned him for the win.

But while waiting to pit for four tires was critical, the team also caught a break with the final caution – after Larson went from eighth to fourth in five laps on four tires, culminating in the critical pass of Chase Elliott that put him in fourth and in the preferred outside lane for last green flag

As Motorsports Analytics’ David Smith noted (and Larson took some issue with), Sunday also was another example of the No. 42 having good fortune on restarts – though Larson certainly has seized the opportunities.

Michigan definitely was in the top five for greatest restarts in 2017 … but the final two restarts at Indianapolis (where Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski both made passes for the lead) also deserve consideration for the season’s best.

XXX

On the flip side, the most jaw-dropping turn of events at Michigan happened before the final restart. Brad Keselowski led a race-high 105 of 202 laps and seemed destined for the first victory at his home track until a cascading set of calls left his No. 2 Ford in 17th.

After Keselowski dominated the first half, crew chief Paul Wolfe devoted his strategy in the second half to chasing Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn. It started when Truex won the second stage by (unintentionally?) short-pitting and leap-frogging from fifth to first (ostensibly, the stop was for a tire problem but was just a few laps ahead of the rest of the contenders).

Keselowski never regained his mojo after that point despite a few gambits by Wolfe. The first was pitting under caution on Lap 140 and re-emerging in 10th as the first car on four tires – but it hardly worked in gaining the necessary ground. When Truex pitted from the lead on Lap 160, Keselowski hadn’t built enough of a cushion to put him a lap down.

So Keselowski pitted again on Lap 162 but for only two tires – and yet still lost the lead to Truex, who had taken four. That left Keselowski obligated to pit for two tires again when the yellow flew on Lap 188 — thus making three pit stops to Truex’s one in the final 60 laps despite having a faster car for most of the race.

At least it seemed much faster until Truex won the second stage and somehow managed to dictate the rhythm of the race despite taking his first lead on Lap 114. Keselowski explained “he didn’t really have enough” to run with Truex so, “we tried a little strategy to kind of get something out of it, but the way it all played out I ended up getting the bottom lane on the restarts and getting absolutely swallowed. We tried. We put in as much effort as we could.”

It was reminiscent of what has been Wolfe and Keselowski’s modus operandi whenever they’ve been at peak operating levels – get the competition off their games. Five years ago at Michigan, they outwitted Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus with pit strategy, a precursor to Keselowski’s maverick charge to the 2012 championship.

It was the first sign that the bewitching spell Johnson and Knaus held over NASCAR for several years seemed to be waning … just as it eventually did for their Hendrick Motorsports forebears Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon after their “Refuse to Lose” heyday.

Truex and Pearn now seem to be the sublime combination of crew chief and driver whose strategy plays and flawless execution have rivals spun out. Though the speed of their No. 78 Toyota has been undisputed, it’s not the only reason the Furniture Row Racing duo has become the weekly focus of the Cup garage.

XXX

If Danica Patrick seems happier lately (despite an uncertain future in racing), it’s because she is.

In the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver discussed how she transformed her outlook on life.

“I just don’t feel the weight of anything anymore,” Patrick said. “I don’t feel angry about anything. It’s just gone. There’s plenty of things I look back and I’m like, ‘That sucked, but whatever. I’m going to go on.’ And the things that make you happiest are free.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

Ryan Blaney paces final Cup practice at Bristol

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Blaney posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway with a lap of 128.554 mph.

He was followed by Kyle Larson (128.065 mph), Ryan Newman (127.784), Jamie McMurray (127.487) and Kyle Busch (127.258).

Chris Buescher, who will remain with JTG Daugherty after this season, was next on the speed chart with a lap of 127.098 mph.

Matt Kenseth had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 125.930. Busch was next at 125.601 mph.

Click here for practice report

In the session’s only incident, Timmy Hill spun but did not hit the wall.

Qualifying is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Chris Buescher signs deal to remain at JTG Daugherty

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
1 Comment

Chris Buescher has signed a multi-year contact to remain at JTG Daugherty in the No. 37 Chevrolet, the team announced Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Really excited to be able to get everything worked out,” Buescher said. “We’ve been able to make a lot of progress this season.”

The team also announced that crew chief Trent Owens has signed an extension to remain with the team.

Buescher was loaned to the team before this season by Roush Fenway Racing because that organization had no room for him. With this new deal, Buescher will no longer be aligned with Roush Fenway Racing.

Roush also leased a charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car this season. That charter must be returned after this year. Car owner Tad Geschickter said the team had an agreement to purchase a charter.

“That paperwork is going to be submitted to NASCAR this week,” Geschickter said.

He also said that the team has “several years” on its agreement to remain aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Buescher won the 2015 Xfinity championship for Roush Fenway Racing and was loaned to Front Row Motorsports in 2016 to run in Cup. He won at Pocono as a rookie to earn a spot in last year’s playoffs. Buescher finished 16th in the points.

The 24-year-old Buescher is 25th in the points heading into Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Buescher finished a season-best sixth last week at Michigan International Speedway.

The signing is not unexpected. Buescher said last month at Indianapolis that he and the team were working on a new deal.

 and on Facebook

Tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After two road courses, the Xfinity Series goes short track racing tonight with the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his first Xfinity start of the year, Kyle Busch attempts to get his second win of the week as he tries to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR races in “Thunder Valley.”

Below is all the info you need ahead of tonight’s race on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Kenny Hawkins, WJHL-TV News Channel 11 anchor and sports director, will give the command to start engines at 7:38 p.m. Green flag is set for 7:43 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (159.9 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Qualifying is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jason Lovins will perform the Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Countdown to Green. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a 32 percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: In April, Erik Jones led the final 21 laps and won his second Bristol spring race. Last August, Austin Dillon won the Food City 300 in an overtime finish. The only laps he led were the final four.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m.