What should have been the feel-good story of last weekend turned into something else

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A.J. Allmendinger takes the upset win, but all anyone wants to talk about is the tragedy at Canandaigua.

Yes, AJ Allmendinger, who was named for some guy named Foyt, won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International (WGI), taking a masterful victory after fending off two-time Glen winner Marcos Ambrose. Both of these racers are certainly road course wizards and they put on a show that should be remembered for any number of years.

Coming a bit more than two years after Allmendinger completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program for a drug offense that forced him to sit out many late 2012 races and lose his job driving for Team Penske, the Dinger’s resurrection as a mature racer is now complete - he’s qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup and for the All-Star Race. This is a big deal, folks.  

Overshadowed

Unfortunately, AJ’s first win, celebrated by former team owner Roger Penske and current technical partner to JTG Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress, was overshadowed by the events a night before. When Kevin Ward Jr left his 360 winged sprint car to confront fellow driver Tony Stewart, stepping onto a hot track and getting run over by Stewart’s right-rear wheel (even as Stewart attempted to avoid the kid by accelerating to the left - using the gas pedal to steer), everything changed. As we all know now, Ward died in this incident.

The result of this 20-year-old’s death has become a media maelstrom that has invaded every television set, radio, website and conversation across our country. Not even the subsequent deaths of actor/comedian Robin Williams and actress/icon Lauren Bacall could quiet a tornado of opinion. Stewart has been demonized because of his passion for racing anything and everything - just like Allmendinger’s namesake and the man who allowed Stewart to use his famed No. 14, A.J. Foyt Jr - and to race with the same intensity he uses in every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contest.

They only care when there's death involved

I haven’t been pleased with any coverage of this incident - not the least being my disgust that Allmendinger’s first win and his recovery from all the things that have befallen this great racer being dismissed in favor of covering Ward Jr’s death. It seems the only time anyone outside motorsports media is interested in our sport is when there’s death, destruction and mayhem. Never when there’s an awesome story like AJ Allmendinger and his race to maturity.

Since I do have some knowledge of tabloid journalism, sprint car racing and Sprint Cup racing, I understand that Kevin Ward Jr’s death and Tony Stewart’s contribution to his death take precedence in reportage over AJ Allmendinger’s fabulous victory at Watkins Glen and the great racing that made this win so very unique and inspiring. Also the fact that two red flags and three restarts didn’t dim Allmendinger’s ability to race in a civil manner against Ambrose.

Media vultures have circled auto racing’s community as they seek culpability from someone, anyone involved in the goings-on at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in the Empire Super Sprint race. Even though Kevin Ward’s namesake father wants to see Tony Stewart placed behind bars for his actions on Saturday night, does he place no blame on his son’s shoulders for exiting his car in an easily discernible red mist to confront Tony Stewart for allegedly putting him in the wall? Was he in the car with him? No, he wasn’t and has said he didn’t even see the accident. None of us discussing these horrid details was on that track and knows what happened.

Blame?

All I know is that there was an accident in which Kevin Ward Jr ended up in the fence after tangling with Tony Stewart. Dressed in black (his father said there were orange reflective stripes but in the videos these are not discernible) he left his car and went onto the track where cars circulated under caution, idling at 35-40mph. Ward Jr, visibly angry strode toward Stewart’s car to confront him, something that should be discouraged at all levels of motor sport.

What happened next is tragic as Ward Jr lost his life. Should blame be placed anywhere for this tragedy? I’m not so sure it can. The Ward family has lost their scion and Tony Stewart has, for the second time in a year, lost his ability to joyously race, which appears to be Stewart’s sole reason for living. The Chase for the Sprint Cup must feel like an afterthought to Stewart and his team right now, as it should.

We should all take some time to pray for the Ward family, whose lives will never be the same because of last Saturday night. We should also say our prayers for Tony Stewart, for he, too, will never be the same. As for the vultures, they’ll find something else to harp about sooner than later. Let’s ignore their ignorance and impertinence. It does no one any good.

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About this article
Series SPRINT , NASCAR-CUP
Drivers Tony Stewart, A.J. Allmendinger, Kevin Ward Jr.
Article type Commentary