Tony Stewart says Ward's death will affect him forever



ATLANTA, GA. - Tony Stewart said the death of Kevin Ward Jr. will "affect my life forever" as he returned to the track for the first time since his car struck and killed the fellow driver during a sprint car race in New York.

Stewart spoke Friday for the first time since Ward died in an Aug. 9 dirt track event in upstate New York.

The three-time NASCAR champion has not raced since Ward's death. Stewart will race in Atlanta Sunday night for the first time in three weeks.  

He said he took time off out of respect for Ward's family and so he could cope with the tragedy. He said "being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time."

Stewart said he could not answer questions about the incident and he left after reading a short statement.

Stewart-Haas Racing Executive Vice President Brett Frood said it was "100 percent" Stewart's decision to race. He says Stewart is emotional but ready to race.

Less than a week after the fatal crash, NASCAR barred its drivers from approaching the track or moving cars after an incident during the race.

"Through time you have to recognize when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder, something that may need to be addressed," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development. "This is one of those times where we look outside our sport and we look at other things, and we feel like it was time to address this."

Read more about the new rule here.