NASCAR owner and racing champion Tony Stewart made his first public comments Friday regarding the Aug. 9 death of fellow racer Kevin Ward Jr.
Stewart described how the accident has impacted his life, and offered his condolences to Ward's family. He also expressed an eagerness to return to racing, Yahoo Sports reports.
The accident occurred during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Canandaigua, New York nearly three weeks ago. Ward Jr. exited his car after being pushed into a wall by Stewart's vehicle, walking onto the dirt track toward oncoming vehicles. As the 20-year-old tried to approach Stewart's car, he was hit by the car's right rear tire. He died of massive blunt trauma.
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion, said he is forever changed by the accident.
"This is been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally," the 43-year-old told reporters.
"This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life. 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., his mother Pam and his sisters Christi, Kayla and Katelyn to know that every day I'm thinking about and praying for them."
Following the accident, Stewart skipped races in Michigan and at Bristol Motor Speedway. He now says that he is ready to return to competition.
"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," he said. "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, and I miss being back in the race car. I think that being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time."
An investigation into Ward's death is ongoing. Stewart will compete Sunday at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.