Tony Stewart addressed the death of Kevin Ward Jr., on Friday before making his return to the NASCAR track at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Tony Stewart On Kevin Ward Jr's Death

''This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally. This will affect my life forever," Stewart said in his opening remarks. "This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.”

Stewart added, referring to Ward’s family, “I want them to know I'm thinking about them and praying for them."

The investigation into the accident that killed Ward is ongoing, the spokesperson for the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office told USA Today Sports. With Stewart not completely out of the Woods for bearing responsibility for Ward’s death, his participation in the race has come into question.

Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood, who declined to comment on the accident, said, “For Tony it’s all about the healing process. That’s why he’s in the car.” Additionally, the driver has received all clearances that NASCAR needed to permit him to race, according to the organization's executive vice president Steve O’Donnell.

Since the Aug. 9 accident in which he failed to steer his sprint car away from an irate Ward, who was storming down the track, and ultimately killed the 20-year-old driver, Stewart has not competed. After dropping out of the Watkins Glen race the Sunday after the wreck – the first of three consecutive races he would miss – Stewart stated that his “thoughts and prayers” were with the Ward family.

"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said. "It's a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I've decided not to participate in today's race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."

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