© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002
RICHMOND, Va. -- Troubled NASCAR star Tony Stewart refuted a woman's claim that he assaulted her after a race in Tennessee, saying he is "shocked and truly at a loss as to why she made the claim."
Stewart, already on probation with NASCAR and his sponsor for punching a photographer Aug. 4 in Indianapolis, is being investigated by the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department in Tennessee after a fan accused him of shoving her against a trailer after an Aug. 24 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Authorities in Tennessee say an officer witnessed the assault, and detectives from Sullivan County came to Richmond International Raceway on Friday to conduct several interviews with people who may have been there.
Stewart's boss, car owner Joe Gibbs, also defended his driver, saying people assigned to be with Stewart at every moment on the night of the Sharpie 500 said they saw nothing out of the ordinary after the race.
After learning of the allegation, Gibbs said, "I went to talk to everyone that was with Tony from the time he was at the car after the race until he got to the hauler and got out of the hauler.
"We did have somebody assigned to be with him, and I went and talked to those people. Basically what they all told me was they saw nothing out of the ordinary."
NASCAR HONORS VICTIMS: NASCAR honored America and the victims and heroes of last September's terrorist attacks with a tribute involving drivers, crew members and fans before Saturday night's Winston Cup race.
The ceremony included brief remarks from former New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Van Essen and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, flip-card stunts involving all 100,000 fans and the traditional call for the drivers to start their engines from Afghanistan.
"Let's send Osama bin Laden a message: His worst is yet to come," Kerik said. "God bless you, God bless NASCAR and God bless America."
Bill Elliott, a veteran voted the most popular driver more than a dozen times, spoke on behalf of all NASCAR competitors.
"As we reflect back on what happened on September 11th, we realize what our freedom is all about," Elliott said. "A lot of innocent men, women and children lost their lives that day. ... We have a goal here tonight, and that's to race for the men, women and children that lost their lives, and the many heroes that helped save lives that day."
PETTY'S NEW SPONSOR: Kyle Petty will be back in the No. 45 Dodge next year, but with a new sponsor.
Georgia-Pacific signed a multi-year deal with Petty Enterprises to sponsor the car with Petty as the driver. Sprint, which sponsors the No. 45 Dodge, has already announced it would be leaving the team at the end of this season.
SERIES RETURNING: NASCAR and the IRL will return to Chicagoland Speedway in 2003. The track will play host to the Tropicana 400 in the Winston Cup series on July 13, one day after the Tropicana Twister 300 for the Busch series.
The IRL Delphi 300 will be run Sept. 7.