NASCAR race driver Tony Stewart on Friday spoke publicly for the first time since striking and killing Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at a dirt track in upstate New York.
Stewart read a brief statement in which he said the tragedy "will affect his life forever":
"This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with both professionally and personally. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.
With that being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine.
I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them.
The racing community is a large family, as you guys know. Everyone's saddened with this tragedy.
I want to thank all my friends and family for their support through this tough emotional time, and the support from the NASCAR community, my partners, all of our employees. It's been overwhelming.
I've taken the last couple weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family, and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It's given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted.
I miss my team, my teammates. I miss being back in the race car. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.
I also understand that all of you have many questions and want a lot of answers; however I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time. Emotionally I'm not sure if I could answer them anyway.
We're here to race this weekend, and I appreciate your respect. There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions. Thank you."
The three-time NASCAR champion returns to the track in Atlanta for the first time this weekend since the fatal accident.
Video posted to YouTube shows Ward getting out of his car at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and gesticulating after Stewart's car drifted into his, sending his car into a wall.
As Stewart's car passed Ward, his rear tire hit the 17-year-old driver and flung him into the air. Ward was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Ontario (NY) County Sheriff Philip Povero has said there is no evidence to support criminal intent by Stewart. Povero said Thursday the investigation is still ongoing.
NASCAR President Mike Helton also spoke Friday, welcoming Stewart back.
Since the Aug. 9 crash, NASCAR has revised its rules, preventing drivers from exiting their vehicles unless their car is on fire.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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