The investigation into the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr. is coming to an end. Once the investigation wraps up Tony Stewart and the rest of the NASCAR Universe will find out whether or not investigators believe that Stewart was legally responsible for the incident. The tragedy that took place a few weeks ago in Upstate New York has rocked the NASCAR world and evoked great emotion from many NASCAR fans. One of the few bright spots that have come in the wake of this tragedy is the immense support for Stewart by his fans and supporters.
There will always be detractors and pundits; however the majority of the NASCAR Universe seems to be behind Stewart. While the fans and supporters that back Stewart do not all have the same opinion of the incident (some feel Ward Jr. is 100 percent responsible for the incident while others feel it was just a series of unfortunate circumstances) they all believe that there was no intent on the part of Stewart. Although the rallied support of Stewart is heartwarming, one has to wonder what would happen if the unthinkable were to come to light.
What happens if the investigation finds that Stewart had intent when his car approached Ward Jr. on the track? What if Stewart himself were to have admitted to having seen Ward Jr. and in that moment decided he was going to spray dirt on him or something along those lines? How does the NASCAR Universe react if it turns out that while Stewart did not mean to run him over he did mean to be as close to him on the track as he was?
While I personally do not believe that Stewart meant to strike Ward Jr. it doesn’t change the fact that the NASCAR Universe could be facing the ‘What If’ question in the near future. We have all seen the videos from that night and for every sophisticated argument for why it wasn’t Stewarts fault there have been equally intelligent arguments as to why it is his fault. Fault aside, what kind of impact would this have on the sport and his fans?
Let’s submerge ourselves in a hypothetical bubble shall we? In this bubble let’s say that it’s found that Stewart saw Ward Jr. on the track and had intent to be as close to him as he was. Let’s just leave it at that though. This does not mean Stewart meant to hit him or anything else, it simply means Stewart knew he was there and didn’t do everything in his power to move away from him.
Legal ramifications aside, what kind of impact would that have on NASCAR and all of the fans and supporters of the driver of the No. 14 machine?
In the above scenario or anything similar to it I do believe that NASCAR would be in a tough spot. If Stewart isn’t 100 percent cleared of all fault there will be an outcry for him to never be allowed to race again. That outcry will obviously coincide with the level of fault in which he is deemed to be at. Heck, some are calling for Stewart’s head now when he hasn’t been found to have done anything wrong; that reaction would only multiple if he is found to be at fault. If fault is found should NASCAR suspend Stewart? As a three-time NASCAR champion Stewart is one of the faces of the sport and if he isn’t cleared by this investigation this could potentially be a huge black eye for the sport of NASCAR. Given his success and stature in the sport does that cause NASCAR to handle this case with ease or make them feel more inclined to drop the proverbial hammer?
Fans are fans and although any scenario where Stewart is at fault might cause some fans to shy away, the majority of his fans would most likely continue to rally around him.
American sports have become synonymous with comeback stories. Whether is be overcoming abuse, poverty, drugs or jail-time it would seem that everyone loves a good comeback story. Although not the same take a look at Michael Vick of the New York Jets. Vick went to jail for inhuman crimes and the murdering of dogs. Vick served his time and returned to the NFL. The NFL also has Josh Brent who drove drunk and killed one of his teammates in a car accident. Brent is currently on the road back to the NFL. Vick and Brent’s situations are not the same as Stewart’s but they can be seen as similar because in all three situations life was lost and all three athletes careers have been called for.
All of this brings us back to the same question, what if? Everyone may want and believe a certain outcome is inevitable in this case but it might be smart for everyone to take a minute and simply ponder what if.
Editors Note: Please understand that the above column is not meant to proclaim Stewart’s guilt or innocence. Instead the column is meant to discuss the long ranging implications that this could have on NASCAR and its fans. Feel free to comment below and discuss how you feel this will impact the NASCAR Universe whether he is cleared of all fault or not as both outcomes will impact the sport and his fans. Please do not take this column as anything more than discussing the potential impact that this situation could have on NASCAR and its fans.