Driver's history includes punching photographer, but officials call contact accidental.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2002
HOMESTEAD -- Barely 24 hours from the start of the biggest race of his career, Tony Stewart was at the center of another controversy Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Incident or accident?
Stewart, on probation with NASCAR for an altercation with a photographer at Indianapolis in August, ran into a photographer while jogging through the Winston Cup garage after the final practice session. Stewart later apologized, and NASCAR considers the matter closed.
"With Tony's history, had this been any other driver it would not have been an issue," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications.
Stewart can clinch the Winston Cup championship today by finishing 22nd or better in the Ford 400.
Stewart was jogging through the garage from his car to the Joe Gibbs Racing hauler when he ran into 50-year-old Rusty Jarrett, who was focusing on Stewart through a zoom lens. Shortly after it happened, Jarrett said he believed the contact was intentional by Stewart.
"He came out of the garage, raised his arm and put a body block on me," said Jarrett, who was not injured.
Sports Illustrated photographer George Tiedemann had a different view.
"Tony was coming out of the garage, going straight toward his hauler," Tiedemann said. "He was cutting through the inspection area and moving pretty fast.
"The photographer was 7-10 feet from the wall of the garage and Tony came around the corner and ran into him. If it had been intentional, (Stewart) certainly would not have looked back at the guy and said, 'What the?' Tony stumbled a little bit after they collided."
NASCAR called a meeting with president Mike Helton, Winston Cup director John Darby, Hunter, Stewart, Gibbs and Jarrett to resolve the matter.
"It was a very candid meeting," Hunter said. "Rusty expressed his opinion on what happened and Tony Stewart gave his opinion of what happened. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and everybody left there happy."