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Ward’s decision was tragic waste

For all the back-and-forth we’ve heard the last two days about Tony Stewart, the one fact I can’t get over is a 20-year-old is dead. And that’s such a waste because we’ll never know what kind of life Kevin Ward Jr. would have had, both on the track and off.

Yes, Stewart is a notorious hothead and everyone who follows NASCAR knows that. Still, it’s foolish for anyone to claim there was intent in the wake of the stunning scene that developed Saturday night in Canandaigua.

No one is inside Stewart’s mind but to think he would actually hit another driver with his car – even one clearly looking to mix it up a little – is implausible.

The video is painful to watch. Stewart and Ward collide around a curve and the yellow flag comes out. Traffic continues, albeit slower. Ward’s car stops and he gets out to head toward the middle of the track, weaving past one car whizzing by and pointing at the approaching Stewart.

Ward was wearing a black fire-retardant suit at night on a relatively dimly lit track.

Many witness reports claim Stewart’s car actually accelerated as he approached Ward.

Might he have been trying to send a few shudders through Ward or maybe even spinning the wheels for a mud shower at the youngster? Maybe.

Still, in a news conference late Monday afternoon, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero reiterated that there is nothing at this time to indicate any criminal intent by Stewart.

That’s the right call.

But Stewart will nonetheless never live this one down. There’s the inevitable wrongful death suit coming from Ward’s family. Stewart will certainly feel impacts in sponsorships and lost revenue from outside interests that may start to treat him like a pariah.

For nearly 10 years, he has been owner of Eldora Speedway, a renowned dirt track in New Weston, Ohio. You’d think that facility will suffer with the association.

Confrontation between drivers has become part of the scene in NASCAR. The hard-charging, helmet-throwing Stewart has been in the middle of plenty of it.

Ward certainly felt compelled to pump out his chest with the big boys and made a terrible mistake doing so.

Bottom line: No matter what your feeling is on Tony Stewart, Kevin Ward is alive today if he doesn’t run on the track.

Yet another example of how life can change in an instant based on our decisions.

• Monday was the 20th anniversary of the final games of the 1994 baseball season before the season, and the World Series, were canceled. It was certainly the lowest moment in Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner.

Come Thursday in Baltimore, owners will be voting on the replacement for the 80-year-old Selig. It’s a fractured vote that has seen Selig’s friendship with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf go south over Reinsdorf’s opposition to Rob Manfred, Selig’s longtime deputy.

Reinsdorf is part of a faction pushing Red Sox chairman Tom Werner because they feel Manfred, among other reasons. would not be tough enough with the players’ union. Pretty foolish, giving the way he and Selig worked on finally establishing policies regarding PEDs and how the game’s revenue has grown exponentially under their leadership.

• Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, had to sit out the final few days of Team Canada’s World Juniors camp last week in Montreal after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game. Sabres top choice Sam Reinhart emerged unscathed and, as expected, was one of the standouts.

I can’t fathom why Hockey Canada had these guys on the ice – or why their teams would let them. The elite guys, especially if they’ve already played in the tournament, should go to the camp, work out and not play in the games. There’s pretty much no chance Ekblad is on the team anyway.

As for Reinhart, that’s going to be an interesting decision for the Sabres later this year. They might be inclined to release him for the tournament in Canada so he gets experience in a high-pressure setting rather than play a mundane schedule around the new year against the likes of the Islanders, Senators and Ekblad’s Panthers.

• Got my annual Hockey News yearbook in the mail last week and it predicts a Chicago-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup final. Not bad. But I’m still thinking the Bruins or Penguins might be better choices in the East.

The Sabres were, of course, picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division. My choice for their top challenger in the “McEichel” Derby? Could be Winnipeg. Can’t see the Jets win after a summer of doing pretty much nothing in a division that features Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas.

• Marshawn Lynch is being investigated for assault and property damage in Seattle? There’s a shocker.