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Mourners remember Ward as polite and respectful

Kayla Herring and her husband, D.J. Herring, approach the media to discuss the funeral of Kevin Ward Jr. on Thursday in Turin. USA Today Sports
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Mourners remember Ward as polite and respectful
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TURIN, N.Y. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted Kevin Ward’s family to know they’re not alone. The NASCAR star sent flowers to Ward’s family as they prepared to say goodbye to the 20-year-old racer who died after being struck by Tony Stewart’s car during a race on Saturday night.

Orange and white flowers draped Ward’s casket as mourners flocked to upstate New York for his funeral on Thursday. Mourners also were dressed in orange and white, Ward’s racing colors.

Ward was remembered as a happy-go-lucky kid around Boonville, N.Y. Townspeople said he was always polite and respectful.

Mourners heard stories about Ward’s talent on the racetrack. He had a bright future ahead, family and friends told the grieving audience. They did not want Ward to be remembered as an accident victim, but as a young man who embraced life and lived it to its fullest.

On Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, Ward was killed when he tried to confront Stewart on the track after Stewart sent Ward’s winged car into the wall. Ward was fatally struck by the right rear tire of Stewart’s car.

As of Thursday, Stewart had remained silent and no charges had been filed.

Ontario County sheriff Philip C. Povero issued a statement Tuesday setting expectations for a two-week investigation, including a recreation of the fatal crash. Povero said there are no facts to support a criminal charge at this time.

The sheriff’s words provide little consolation to Ward’s father, who clearly places the blame for his son’s death on Stewart.

“The one person that knows what happened that night is possibly facing 10 years in prison,” Kevin Ward Sr. said earlier this week. “Is he going to say what he has done?”

One of Stewart’s NASCAR rivals has come to his defense.

“Tony Stewart is a great person,” Kevin Harvick told Sports Illustrated. “I know in my heart he would never do anything like that on purpose. We just have to let it all play out. I do know that Tony is a great friend of mine; I’ve known him a long time, and he probably has the biggest heart of anybody in that garage.”

Stewart will not race this weekend when the Sprint Cup circuit comes to Michigan International Speedway.

He also withdrew from a sprint-car race Saturday at Plymouth Speedway in Indiana, according to the track.

“It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included,” team representative Mike Arning said. “He is grieving, and grief doesn’t have a timetable.”