There's "SMOKE" in "Hot-lanta"
Tony returned to the NASCAR garage this week, and will race this evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track where he has multiple wins.
Tony met with the press on Thursday and read a prepared statement, one which was written by himself, not prepared by a publicist, and felt sincere and from the heart. He choked up as he read, and no doubt could be raised that he continues to grieve. He was unable to speak much about the case itself, safe to express his sorrow and dismay at the events that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.
The case remains under the investigation of the Ontario County Sheriff's office, and they have stated they expect the investigation to continue for another two weeks. Even if there are no criminal charges laid against Tony Stewart, there is still the very likely chance that the Ward family will file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Can Tony win at Atlanta? Of course he can. Tony has won at almost every single track he has driven on to. If he wins, he can also compete for the Sprint Cup Championship. NASCAR made that call, to allow the exception to the "must attempt to qualify for all races" rule. Was it the right decision?
The interwebs have been alive with opinions, and Sirius NASCAR radio has featured their call in shows for the past few days, requesting opinions. Some people are adamant that it is absolutely wrong, and shows disrespect to the Ward family, and the memory of Kevin Ward Jr. Others believe that Tony owes nothing to anyone and should be permitted to compete as normal. Then there are most people, who seem to be somewhere in the middle.
I think I am one of those. A young man lost his life and that, for me, is the most important fact. It doesn't matter if he tried to grab Tony's car. It doesn't matter that his emotions led him onto the track and into obvious danger. I don't believe that Tony purposely hit, or even tried to scare Kevin Ward Jr. I believe, in my heart, that Tony did not see Kevin until the last possible moment, and the acceleration we hear on the video is Tony attempting to steer the car away. Tony is more comfortable in a Sprint car than, perhaps, any other car he has driven. He knows what to do to steer that car. Those moves are as instinctive as it is to put your hand up to avoid a projectile aimed at your face.
Tony is continuing to grieve and being back with his NASCAR family is the best medicine. He had the support of his team, teammates and crews, and sponsors. That will go a long way towards healing, but one only has to look at the video of he with Kevin and Keelan Harvick yesterday to see the depth of his pain. He just isn't the same Tony Stewart. He will have to live with the knowledge that he caused another person's death for the rest of his life. I wish him the very best.
In the past weeks, Carl Edwards finally confirmed the worst kept secret in NASCAR. Edwards will join Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, following former and future teammate, Matt Kenseth. Kenseth moved to JGR last season and scored seven wins with his new team, although he has not seen the same success this year. Carl, no doubt, hopes to capitalize on the success Matt found, and expand on it. Carl just has not had the success he had in the past. In fact, none of the Roush Fenway drivers have had a great deal of success. Next year the team will be comprised of Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne. In order to be successful the team will definitely need to step up. The Chevrolet teams of Hendrick and Stewart-Haas, along with JGR are dominant so far this season, having won 20 of the 24 races run so far. Carl Edwards has won two and Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger have won the other two. Carl will be in the Chase this season, but Stenhouse Jr and Biffle seem like long shots.
Atlanta is a one and a half miles of speed. The track hasn't been paved in years, and is really tough on tires, but a lot of drivers love the track. It is the track where the King, Richard Petty, ended his racing career, where Jeff Gordon started his on that same day, and where we saw, in my opinion, the most exciting conclusion to any NASCAR season. It all happened in 1992. Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki were racing for the Championship. Davey got knocked out early, the King got his car repaired after an early wreck and managed to come back out to finish the race and Bill Elliott won the race. Alan Kulwicki was crowned the champion and made his famous "Polish Victory Lap", but would lose his life only a few short months later.
Atlanta is also the site of the only "snowed out" race, if my memory serves me correctly. As teams returned to Atlanta early in the 1993 season, the "snow hurricane" or "blizzard of '93" forced the postponement of the race to the following Saturday. In 2008 that scenario was repeated on a much smaller scale, with Saturday activities postponed due to snow. The race itself continued as scheduled on Sunday, but any fan of NASCAR who is old enough to remember the early '90's will recall that weekend in '93.
As I send this to press, the trucks are racing at Mosport Park in Ontario, Canada. It is being broadcast up here in Canada on SPEED, the remnants of the channel that remains after the inception of FoxSports1. The race has just completed half way, with Cole Custer in the lead. Coverage for the night race at Atlanta gets underway in just over two hours with the green flag dropping in about four hours and change.
So, who ya got?