LOUDON, N.H. — Tony Stewart stepped over the pit road wall, signed a few autographs on a brisk walk to a golf cart and was whisked away from the track.
Out of championship contention, Stewart was never a threat to win the pole Friday at New Hampshire. He’ll start 28th in the No. 14 Chevrolet, his second-worst qualifying run of the season.
Stewart was in the car for the first time since he learned a grand jury will decide his fate in the fatal sprint car crash in upstate New York.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Tuesday that he made the decision to present the case to a grand jury after reviewing evidence collected by sheriff’s investigators. Tantillo could have determined there was not enough evidence to support charges and dropped the case but instead announced his decision more than a month after Stewart’s car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9.
Stewart has remained quiet since making a brief statement when he returned to the track three races ago at Atlanta. Some in the garage are eager to see a resolution and learn more about the case.
“It kind of feels a little bit like a cop-out that they send it to the grand jury,” New Hampshire pole winner Brad Keselowski said. “I think everybody is wishing Tony the best and supporting him, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
Stewart spent three weeks in seclusion before returning for the final two races of the Sprint Cup regular season. He did not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field and finished 18th in the first Chase race Sunday at Chicagoland.
Stewart could be charged with second-degree manslaughter under New York law if prosecutors believe he “recklessly caused the death of another person,” with negligent homicide another possibility.
Stewart signed several autographs as he walked through the garage following the first practice session, saying little, with Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman Mike Arning by his side.
Stewart is a three-time champion with 48 career Cup wins in 542 starts.
“I think the whole industry and the world is waiting to see when Tony is able to sit at a mic and talk,” six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. “I’m like all of you; I’m just waiting.”
While that wait continues, Keselowski just keeps leading the way. He turned a track-record lap of 140.598 mph to claim qualifying’s top spot.
Keselowski is coming off consecutive victories at Richmond and the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener last week at Chicagoland. He swept the Cup and Nationwide races at New Hampshire in July.
The Team Penske driver has five poles this season and leads the series with five victories. He has eight poles in 189 career Sprint Cup starts.
“This kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team’s wheelhouse,” Keselowski said. “We had this race circled before the Chase started and we felt decent about Chicago, but really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket.”
Jamie McMurray, a non-Chase driver, was second. Chase drivers took the next seven spots: Kevin Harvick was third, followed by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.
Chase drivers Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon took 11th to 13th. Kurt Busch is 15th, Matt Kenseth 16th and Kasey Kahne 17th.