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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (AP) — Tony Stewart said Monday he never considered retiring from racing following the death of Kevin Ward Jr.
The three-time NASCAR champion talked with reporters Monday at his first news conference since a grand jury decided last week not to charge him in Ward's death. The 20-year-old driver was struck and killed by Stewart's car during a sprint car race in upstate New York on Aug. 9.
"This is what I've done all my life. This is what I've done for 36 years, and I wouldn't change anything about it," he said. "I love what I do. I love driving race cars, but I think it might change right now as far as how much of it and what I do, but there was never a thought in my head about stopping. That would take the life out of me."
Stewart took 29 questions over 36 minutes at Stewart-Haas Racing, but did not discuss what he remembers about the incident that killed Ward. He has been advised by legal counsel not to discuss it because he still could face a civil lawsuit from Ward's family.
He admitted he's not been properly engaged with the four-car race team he co-owns. He missed three races following Ward's death as he secluded himself at his Indiana home, but has been back since the Aug. 31 race at Atlanta.
The 43-year-old Stewart didn't earn a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, but teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch both made the 16-driver field. Busch was eliminated Sunday at Dover.
Stewart, who barely watched the three races he missed, said he has not been the leader he'd like to be for his team.
"I've let my team down from that standpoint. I've been a little bit of a cheerleader, but that's about all I've been able to contribute here the last seven weeks," he said. "It's been hard for me to function day-to-day. There hasn't been anything normal about my life the last seven weeks, so it's been very hard to try to do anything to be productive to help those guys."
Stewart has also been absent from the sprint car teams he owns via Tony Stewart Racing, and from the three race tracks he owns. He has watched his drivers compete online and watched several nights of racing at Eldora Speedway on his computer, but has not been a part of any of his businesses.
He was appreciative of the support he's received from sponsors, particularly Mobil 1, Bass Pro Shops and Rush Truck Centers, but acknowledged it's been difficult on the companies. Stewart also missed the final 15 races of the 2013 season with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash last August.
"It's obviously a tough circumstance for anybody to be a part of it, for a corporation to be part of it as well, but they've been very supportive through this whole process," he said. "I can't speak to what the future will be for them. They've been supportive to this point and that's something I've been very grateful for."
Stewart has been receiving professional help to cope with Ward's death. Asked Monday if he could go back and change anything about the last seven weeks, Stewart said he would not have gone to Canandaigua Motorsports Park for what turned into a tragic sprint car race.
"I'd have stayed at Watkins Glen that night," he said. "You know, I do this stuff and I go run those cars to have a good time and that's all I wanted to do that night. I wanted to go have fun. It wasn't a big paying race for sprint car standards. I just wanted to go run my sprint car for a night. I do it to have fun, and it didn't end up being fun that night."
Stewart told The Associated Press last week that he had lost his desire to race sprint cars and he repeated that Monday.
"When I got hurt, it was as soon as I got healed, and as soon as things got settled in with the Cup car I was set that I was wanting to get in one," he said, "but right now, I wouldn't even be able to give you a small idea of if and when I'll ever get back in a car."
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