Tony Stewart Team in 'Close Contact' With Sponsors, but Most Lay Low After Fatal Racing Incident

Driver's Team Reaches Out to Corporate Partners; Criminal Charges Weighed

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Tony Stewart.
Tony Stewart. Credit: Jason Moore

Nascar driver Tony Stewart's team is in "close communication" with its 17 official partners and sponsors, but most are refraining from commenting beyond offering condolences to the family of Kevin Ward Jr., the driver whom Mr. Stewart struck and killed two days ago during a race.

A spokesman for one sponsor, Bad Boy Buggies, said late Monday afternoon that the marketer is committed to Mr. Stewart. "First of all, let me say that all of us at Bad Boy Buggies are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred Saturday night, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and loved ones of Kevin Ward Jr.," he said in a statement. "We remain committed to our partnership with Tony Stewart Racing."

Another partner, an animal disaster response nonprofit called Code 3 Associates, issued a similar statement. "Code 3 Associates will remain firmly in support of the Stewart-Haas Racing," spokesman Timothy Winski said.

Others stuck with statements of sympathy. "We are aware of the tragic accident that took place over the weekend," a Coca Cola spokeswoman wrote in an email. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Kevin Ward's family, and with Tony and the Stewart-Haas race team."

"We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred on Saturday involving Kevin Ward Jr. and Tony Stewart," wrote Cheri Quigley, a corporate communications manager for Oakley. "Our thoughts are with the families and friends affected during this difficult time."

"All of us at Bass Pro Shops are deeply saddened about last night's tragic accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park," Bass Pro said on Facebook. "We send our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of sprint car competitor Kevin Ward Jr. and also to Tony Stewart and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing."

Mr. Stewart's list of other partners and sponsors includes Chevrolet, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers, Arctic Cat, GoDaddy, Haas, Aspen Dental, State Water Heaters, Simpson, New Balance, Celeballs.com and Featherlite Trailers.

Many of his partners did not respond to Ad Age by press time, but Mr. Stewart's team said it has been in touch. "We have been in close contact with all of our corporate partners," said Brett Frood exec VP, Stewart-Haas Racing. "While they are all thinking about the family and friends of Kevin Ward Jr., they also care about the emotional well-being of Tony, and they are very supportive of him during this difficult time."

"It was a tragic accident that happened and it is an emotional time for all involved," he added. "Our partners realize this and we continue to be in close communication with all of them."

Though there have been some calls to press charges against Mr. Stewart, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero told reporters over the weekend that he is keeping his options open.

Jim Andrews, senior VP at sponsorship consultancy IEG, isn't surprised by the muted response. "Usually the sponsors take a step back and wait while there's an investigation going on," he said.

"I think in this situation," Mr. Andrews said, "where there's enough gray area of whether he did anything wrong or not, and given the fact he's had such long-term positive relationships, I don't think there's a lot to be gained from coming out and saying 'We're going go in another direction.'"

After Greg Zipadelli, VP-communications for Stewart-Haas Racing, initially told reporters Saturday that everything would be "business as usual" and that Mr. Stewart would race Sunday at Watkins Glen, Mr. Stewart reversed course and pulled out of two races he was scheduled to compete in: Watkins Glen, and a dirt track race at Plymouth Speedway.

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