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Sponsor Fines Stewart for Outburst

August 8, 2002

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ATLANTA (AP) _ Tony Stewart, who said NASCAR’s $10,000 fine and season-long probation over his most recent outburst was too light, was hit even harder by his own team sponsor on Thursday.

The Winston Cup star, who punched a photographer following last Sunday’s Brickyard 400, was fined $50,000 and placed on team probation for the remainder of the 2002 season by The Home Depot, the sponsor of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac.

A spokesman for the Atlanta-based company said the $50,000 will go to the United Way of Central Indiana, Stewart’s home state, to be used for a variety of after school programs for children.

The sponsor made its decision to add to NASCAR’s penalties after consulting the publisher’s office of The Indianapolis Star. It was a free-lance photographer working for that newspaper who had the run-in with Stewart.

Upset after a 12th-place finish on Sunday, Stewart tried to run away from photographer Gary Mook. When Mook started running alongside him, Stewart stopped and punched him in the chest. Mook was not injured.

On Tuesday, prior to driving in a late model modified race in Terre Haute, Ind., Stewart called NASCAR’s fine ``light″ and said he deserved a ``stiffer″ fine given his past indiscretions. Apparently, Home Depot heeded his words.

Following Home Depot’s announcement on Thursday, Stewart said, ``This was my heart attack, my wake-up call. There is no excuse for what I’ve done. I’m very sorry, and I don’t really expect anyone to forgive me.

``Meeting with Mr. Mook is now my first priority. He didn’t deserve any of this, and my apology to him needs to come face-to-face, as soon as possible.″

It’s the second straight year Stewart will end the Winston Cup season on probation. Last year, the Columbus, Ind., native drew a $10,000 fine and had his probation extended for the rest of last season after slapping away a reporter’s tape recorder and then kicking it under a truck. Stewart also was involved in a shoving incident with NASCAR officials last season.

Stewart, 31, said he is aware he has a problem with anger and will seek help.

``I know I have a problem with keeping my emotions in check,″ Stewart said. ``After all of this, I’ve felt as low as I’ve ever felt. But it’s probably exactly what I needed to make me seek help. A hard fall like this will tend to jar you back to reality.

``I’m looking forward to making myself better as a person and better in dealing with the things life sends your way _ the good and the bad.″

Hugh Miskel, director of sales promotion for The Home Depot, said the actions by Stewart ``do not at all represent the values and beliefs″ of the company’s employees.

``We value our relationship with the media, fans and competitors of NASCAR, and the behavior displayed following the Brickyard 400 will not be tolerated from any member of our race team now or in the future.″

Miskel added, however, ``We support Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing and we will help provide any and all resources needed to see this situation through. We have always viewed our sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing and our relationship with Tony Stewart as a partnership, and despite the events of the past week, those beliefs have not changed. We remain committed to Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing.″

Gibbs, who has continued to support Stewart through all of his troubles off the track, said, ``Tony has made a commitment to us and we’ve made a commitment to him. He knows he needs help in controlling his emotions and we’re going to do all we can to help and support him.″

He added, ``We’re confident incidents such as this one are in the past and won’t be repeated in the future.″

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