For three weeks since the tragic accident Aug. 9 that killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward in upstate New York, Tony Stewart has been in seclusion in his hometown of Columbus, Ind.
"This is been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with both personally and professionally," Stewart said, choking up between words of his opening statement.
"I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., and his mother, Pam ... to know every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them. The racing community is a large family and as you know, everyone is sad about this tragedy."
"It's given me time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates, and I miss being back in the racecar. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this stressful time."
Stewart said "out of respect for the ongoing process" he would not answer questions. Stewart added "emotionally, I'm not sure I'd be able to answer them."
"There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions," Stewart said.
Stewart made the decision to return to the car "100%" on his own.
Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, said he would not comment on the incident in New York and wants the focus on Stewart, and how he'll get through it.
"He's ready to be in the racecar, or he wouldn't be here," Frood said.
Stewart sent flowers and a card to the family and plans to reach out again "at the appropriate time," the team said Friday.
Frood said the entire 270-employee team will "respect the process" in the ongoing investigation into Ward's death. He said SHR has no information on the investigation.
"For Tony, its all about the healing process and that's why he's here," Frood said. "He's here with his family. That's one side of it. The other side of it, he's a racecar driver."
Frood said it will be very overwhelming for Stewart to be in the garage with his "family" of crewmembers and fellow drivers.
"That being said, Tony Stewart is a racecar driver. He's been a racecar driver the past 35 years," Frood said.
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