Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Grand Jury or Grandstanding?

(Photo Credit: CIA)
The investigation surrounding the incident involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr. is now being sent to a grand jury. (Photo Credit: CIA)

The news we have all been waiting for finally broke on Wednesday in regards to the Tony Stewart / Kevin Ward, Jr. story. With the investigation complete, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo has decided to present the case to a grand jury, despite the fact that those handling the investigation had previously said that they saw no evidence that led them to believe there was any criminal intent on Stewart’s part.

Tantillo would not say when the case would be presented, only giving a time frame of “soon.” Whether or not it will impact Stewart’s season I don’t know, but I am starting to become convinced of one thing: this move might have been more political rather than necessary.

To anyone outside the sport or to someone only casually interested, the cry for “justice” has been nauseatingly high. They see the death of Ward as criminal negligence by Stewart at best, vehicular manslaughter at worst. To the outside world, anything short of a prison sentence would show a lack of law enforcement and the courts will be accused of playing favorites because of Stewart’s fame.

On the other hand are those who closely follow the sport and know that Stewart would never try to harm another driver, and many even see the blame lying with Ward. Why run out onto the racetrack with a dark firesuit, on a dark racetrack, with dirt flying all around? If Stewart was convicted of a crime, there would be outrage from the racing community and the courts would be accused of knowing nothing of racing or of Stewart’s character, a lack of insight by those in authority.

So how do they make such a tough decision when no answer would be the right one? Well, send it to a jury, of course. That absolves them of any blame while still allowing the justice system to go through a structured process. That way, any decision reached is not theirs but that of, well, a representation of the people. There will still be outrage, but it won’t be directed at Tantillo, Sheriff Philip Povero, or anyone else involved in the case. No, the outrage will be towards those who either do or don’t believe that there is enough evidence to take this case to trial.

Now, of course, I haven’t seen the same evidence that Ontario County has. Perhaps they have a very good reason for taking this case to a grand jury based on some video or photos they have gathered. I’m not even saying it’s the wrong call. But I can’t help but think this move isn’t so much of a necessity as it is to take the weight of this decision off of their shoulders.

Now onto the mailbox:

“This might be an obvious question by why is Ambrose leaving NASCAR? I mean, I know he’s not the best driver or anything, but he could still get some good finishes and win a few races.” Tyler

To hear Marcos Ambrose tell it, this move is about career and family. When pressed on the matter last Saturday, Ambrose responded by saying “I think it is a great time to move back home to Australia with my family.”

He also happened to say that “This is really a racing choice for me” but clearly there is more to it than that. Just inferring from his comments, it appears that Ambrose might be a little homesick, wants to be around any family back in Australia, but still kind of wants to keep his foot in the door in stock car racing.

How did I come up with this last point? Ambrose is returning to V8 Supercar racing with … Roger Penske.

That’s right. The Australian driver is returning to a racing series in which he was highly successful before making the move to NASCAR, with a team owner who has been and continues to be successful in the Sprint Cup Series. Penske is partnering with Dick Johnson Racing, a very successful and historically significant Australian motor racing team.

What I think it means is that Ambrose might be interested in running a few stock car races in the future, just not full time. He may very well go from being a series regular to a road ringer, one of the drivers you don’t see much of until a road course comes up on the schedule.

We’ve seen it to an extent with Juan Pablo Montoya, the driver who jumped from open wheel to NASCAR and back to open wheel. Montoya’s strengths were also road courses and, though neither race that he’s competed in this season was a road course (Michigan and Indianapolis), his continuing ties to a NASCAR team, while competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, allows him to go back and forth between the series as time and sponsorship allows.

Simply put, I don’t think Homestead 2014 will be the last time we see Ambrose at a NASCAR race. We will probably just see him much less often.

“Why wasn’t Keselowski penalized for the flared right side yesterday? That’s an advantage! And obviously it’s illegal or every team would do it!” Megan

Are you a Dale Jr. fan?

Just kidding.

I hate to take the easy way out on this one … ok I don’t. Seriously, if NASCAR didn’t see a problem with it—and they obviously didn’t since the No. 2 passed post-race inspection and as of press time have received no penalties from NASCAR R&D—then why is this such a problem? As much emphasis as NASCAR has put on the excitement level of the Chase, I have a hard time believing that they are turning a blind eye to a competitor bending (skirting?) the rules and holding an advantage over the other competitors. After all, haven’t they been doing everything they can to stop Jimmie Johnson from doing just that by changing the Chase rules every year or so? (I had the chance—I took it.)

I also feel like competitors other than Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s manager and a few spotters would be raising a bigger stink about this if it were such a big deal. To me, that reads as though Paul Wolfe gave a reasonable explanation as to why the skirts were flared in the first place and maybe it’s not such a big controversy after all.

Now, I’m also not naive. It’s possible that Brad Keselowski did incur that sort of “damage” while racing on the track and the team just “happened” not to notice, and the effects of the aerodynamics could have played a role in Keselowski winning the race. However, I can’t seriously refer to such a move as “cheating” when they didn’t technically break any rules. Name any team out there that hasn’t pulled something similar and I’ll show you the entrance to Narnia.

Also, if flared skirts that wins anyone the championship this year, I’m going to be shocked. Something so simple is going to mean so very little come Homestead.

(Photo Credit: CIA)
Aric Almirola’s bad luck at Chicagoland may have been the end to one of the season’s most compelling Cinderella stories. (Photo Credit: CIA)

“So is Almirola officially eliminated from the Chase now? Or what? Like what if he wins this weekend? Unlikely, I know, but did the engine issues officially knock him out?” Crysta

No, Aric Almirola is not officially eliminated but it will be extremely difficult for him to move on to the next round now. Anything short of a victory will likely mean elimination for him. If it had happened to someone like Kevin Harvick or Jeff Gordon, I would say they have a reasonable chance at rebounding and moving on to the next round if they run will enough at New Hampshire or Dover. But Almirola? He only snuck in with that win at Daytona. I know he was running extremely well at Chicago when he had engine troubles, but he’s going to have to carry that momentum into the next two races to climb out from under the bottom of the Chase pile. I just don’t see that happening.

Now, if he proves us all wrong (as he was doing so well at Chicago) and goes on to win one of the next two races, he most certainly will advance. There is nothing

stopping him from doing that. But even if he finishes in the top 10 or top 5 at both of those races, it is going to be difficult for him to climb out of the bottom four. Right now, Almirola is 23 points behind 12th place Carl Edwards, the position he needs to aim for if he is going to move on to the next round. That’s a tall order for Almirola to beat a driver like Edwards, even though he’s having an off year. Plus, he’ll have to leap frog Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger, and Ryan Newman.  Does he have it in him?

His performance last week had me convinced he might be able to last longer than I originally gave him credit for. Realistically, that engine issue dashed his Chase hopes before they really even took off.

About the author

Promoted to editor in 2013, Summer is one of Frontstretch’s fast-rising young talents. While contributing to social media efforts, she also writes the weekly "Up To Speed" column. A Kansas native, Summer graduated with a Bachelor's in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2015. She also contributes to other media outlets such as Kickin' The Tires.

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Summer, the DA made his statement at the beginning of the investigation…”The no criminal intent” comment. If I recall correctly he also amended that statement to include “at this time”. Obviously after weeks of research and interviews something has changed. We are not privy to anything at this time, but all the armchair experts (read Tony “fans”) had it all figured out an hour after it happened and promptly started the smear campaign against the deceased and his family. I say the Grand Jury is the best thing for all concerned. I am amazed at the defense of a “athlete” no matter what. If TS is innocent of any wrong doing, the Grand Jury will the world know. I don’t see any grandstanding, and I defer to THEIR expertise, I view it as potential vindication for Tony, and at the very least questions answered for the Ward family.


While the majority of Nascar fans support Stewart, I believe the reason is because they are looking at Tony’s entire body of work. Such as his philanthropic work, his work to help dirt track racing over the years, and his love of dirt track racing. Whereas the mainstream media is strictly looking at hot head Tony and trying to rile up the uninformed to get the desired outrage, facts be damned. Its was quite ridiculous and borderline unethical. This has led to very defensive race fans. I don’t always agree with Summer’s comments, but in this case, under the circumstances, I don’t blame her for her defensive comments.


The DA is too chicken sh*t to take responsibility for the decision, so he’s passing the case off to others. Washing the hands.

As for Nascar constantly making changes, some would argue that it’s to help the 88. Will the chase next year include the top 35?

Bill B

“On the other hand are those who closely follow the sport and know that Stewart would never try to harm another driver”

This is such a lame defense to use in determining whether this worth passing on to the Grand Jury. As I have pointed out before, 90% of drunk drivers wouldn’t try to harm another person either but sometimes they do.

On the other hand, you also have to wonder if all the crap and finger pointing going on in the NFL right now had any bearing on this decision. Better to play it conservatively than to have the media swarming on you questioning you three weeks from now when a new video surfaces.


Good points Bill. Yet IMHO the question that those who say “Stewart would never try to harm another driver” avoid is what was his intent? Did he intend to throw dirt on the young man, or scare/embarrass him? If he did then it went horribly wrong. That question itself justifies a grand jury.

Bill B



Intent is at times not a necessary element of a crime. Simple negligence resulting in harm to another can often be enough to result in a person being charged with a crime. A perfect example is the texting driver that crosses the centerline and causes an accident. No intent, but still criminal behavior.


And that is what some seem to be ignoring.

Carl D.

I have no problem with a grand jury deciding whether this incident warrants an indictment, though I do agree with Summer there could be a little grandstanding by the D.A going on here. I’d like to think he just wants to make sure there are no accusations of bias towards Stewart. However, I also agree with the investigators that there was no certainly criminal intent. As to what whether was any intent to “sling dirt” or scare Ward, no one, including a grand jury, will ever know except Stewart. To think that this incident will ever result in a guilty verdict against Stewart in any kind of criminal prosecution is a real stretch. I’m not a Stewart fan and I don’t agree at all with kb that Tony’s fans are the only ones who are defending him. I just believe in giving the man the benefit of the doubt.


Carl, I should have made my point more clear. Of course I should have said “a lot”, “majority” etc. But the fact is, there is an incredible amount of malice and evil words directed at the Ward family, obviously those in defense of Tony, what else is one to think??? They had that boy convicted quickly, and it showed a lot to me, and it wasn’t good.


“Now of course I haven’t seen the evidence” and you were not there, don’t let that stop you from telling us what happened. Perhaps the evidence justified sending the case to the Grand Jury. We will all just have to wait and see, even, gasp, if the process doesn’t confirm to the 24 hour news cycle. Your columns constantly state your opinions as fact, even ignore facts that do not fit your narrative. With your preconceived notions, lazy mind and arrogant dismissive attitude towards those with whom you disagree you would thrive at the New York Times. Better hurry and apply though, they are shedding readers quicker than NASCAR is shedding fans. Here is some I am sure unwanted advice. Push yourself a little. Have the courage to examine some of your preconceived notions. Admit your biases. Grow up.


Iit seems like this would have been a real opportunity for some journalism. To report all of the issues and facts involved objectively.Instead we have blind allegiance, almost a bunker mentality. It doesn’t always have to be our guys are perfect.And in this case perhaps they aren’t.


My personal wish, and I know it won’t happen, is that if Tony is found guilty, all racers should boycott the state and not race there anymore.

From the lowest level to the highest of the sport, just avoid the state altogether.


I Hate to say it but at this point the original sympathys for the Ward family are waning as from what I’ve seen/read that the Sr Ward is the driving force behind this … The police didn’t see any criminal evidence or are the Wards going for the big lawsuit payday & feel putting pressure on the local law enforcment ..I Am also NOT privy to all the information but from what I HAVE seen its dark-suits dark-cars are still moving at speed (not racing speed) & he had NO business walking out there like a foolish angry young man (yes i’ve held off that statement long enough) & I appoligize to those I was hard on at the beginning for making that same statement.
If found guilty it would be the end of auto racing as anyone who caused an incident could be held liable & auto racing is still dangerous …Jus another opinion


I highly doubt this is being done to placate a grieving father or to put the screws to Stewart. My sympathies still reside with the Ward family.

Jerry Smith

From the get-go there was something about this that didn’t smell right. Every day that TS didn’t explain what happened added suspicion. He still hasn’t explained it. The case going to Grand Jury further proves it was not just a pure accident. I have formed my opinion and have lost all respect for TS. This was a huge test of his character and he failed. Now an interesting question in the wake of the NFL’s woes is, how should NASCAR deal with this. We probably know how they won’t.


It is standard practice for lawyers to strongly advise those under active investigation, whether guilty or innocent,to make no public statements concerning the incident. You should draw no conclusions from Stewart’s silence, it is just the way these things work.


JohnQ, most everyone knows this but Jerry is obviously a hater of Stewart long before this incident. By him not saying anything, he must be guilty after all. He sounds like the lamestream news media with this ridiculous nonsense.

The part that doesn’t smell right is the fact that is has been weeks of investigation and Stewart still hasn’t been arrested or charged with anything. So either Stewart has done nothing illegal, or they are grasping at straws. This whole grand jury think looks like they are grasping at straws at this point. See what I did there Jerry?

Jerry Smith

Steve, I would probably be a prosecuting attorneys pick while you would be picked by a defense attorney. See what I did there? That’s a dig. There is enough circumstantial evidence at this point for me to form an opinion. He had the chance right after the accident to explain that he didn’t see him on the track or couldn’t avoid him. I think in that situation I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut. Put yourself in the situation, if it was a pure accident would you speak out? On the other hand, if it was an outburst gone wrong would you clam up? In no way would it have been intentional, just an attempt to give him a FU as he passed by. The fact that it is going to Grand Jury indicates there is some damning evidence, not that they are grasping at straws. Further evidence could sway my opinion and I wouldn’t convict in a courtroom on what we know now, but in this court of public opinion for now…I vote Guilty of something.


kb – I agree with part of what you said. However, if by “THEIR expertise”, you are talking about the members of the Grand Jury, then please expand on what type of expertise that you are talking about. Grand Juries are made up of normal people pulled from the pool of registered voters. They will most likely have no expertise about racing at all.

The information that I have not yet seen is what options will the DA give the Grand Jury. You do not just throw a case at them as say your figure out the charges. You have to give them a charge or a range of charges to deliberate on.


Jon, I thought it was pretty obvious. The “expertise” is of the district attorney and his team. They obviously have something of value to pursue, which we are not privy to at this time. I was NOT referring to the Grand jury. I am aware of how our legal system choses jurors, and I would not consider the average Joe chosen, a expert on anything.


The Grand Jury doesn’t have to consist of experts on anything, racing or otherwise. They just need to examine the facts as presented, and determine whether there is enough evidence to take it to a trial. In fact it may be better if they aren’t “experts” so that preconceived notions don’t influence their opinions.


If you are replying to me Russ, I know..thats what I wrote. Common sense.


Open question…. Lets say in a baseball game batter swings as hard as he can and unfortunately hits a line drive straight back up the middle which hits the pitcher in the head and kills him. No intent correct? But couldn’t the batter have bunted, which would not have had the same result? So is there intent to hit the ball as hard as you can? I guess I am trying to make the analogy that results in sports are not always what was intended. Would that analogy not fit in the Stewart case? Maybe on both sides? Stewart’s and Ward’s? Tony’s intent was (in my opinion) not to hit Ward, and I am sure Ward’s intent was not to be hurt (or killed) making his point. Sometimes things just don’t work out as intended…….

Jerry Smith

I would adjust the analogy slightly because yours depicts a pure accident. Mine would be… A pitcher throws at a batters head, misses, the batter rushes the mound and swings the bat over the pitchers head to scare him but slips and accidently hits and kills him dead. Still an accident with no intent but with added reckless action in a fit of rage. In Sports there is leniency given to incidents that might bring legal action outside the venue. Surely this leniency has a limit.

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