THREE-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart struck and killed rival driver Kevin Ward Jr with his sprintcar moments after an on-track incident in a minor dirt-track race in New York State.
Police said Stewart was co-operating, but that the investigation into the fatality was not of a criminal nature.
Ward was killed after walking onto the track to confront Stewart in the $1500-to-win race at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park half-mile track.
A YouTube video of the Saturday night incident showed Stewart – a driver who has never walked away from grass roots dirt racing – in a track duel with Ward. Their two sprint cars made contact, propelling Ward's machine hard into a fence.
Ward jumped from his wreck, walking onto the track to confront Stewart, who was still circulating under the yellow. When Ward pointed angrily at Stewart, the superstar’s car revved and the rear wheels broke traction, and the right rear caught Ward and flung him through the air.
The horrified crowd watched as track workers rushed to help Ward, who was prone and motionless on the track.
On Sunday, Ontario County (New York) Sheriff Philip C. Povero confirmed Ward was declared dead on his arrival at a local hospital.
Povero said that both Stewart and track officials were "co-operating fully" with investigators.
Stewart is a fiery, passionate racer with a history of aggro at race venues, including in Australia.
In 2011, while racing at Sydney’s Parramatta Speedway, he angrily threw a helmet at track co-promoter and competitor Brett Morris. Police later took away the American, who was held in a cell until allowed to leave in the early hours.
Stewart was due to race in a Sprint Cup round at Watkins Glen this morning but wisely withdrew.
A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson issued the following statement: "A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."