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LOUDON, N.H. – Tony Stewart stepped over the pit road wall, signed a few autographs on a brisk walk to a golf cart and was whisked away from the track.
Out of championship contention, Stewart was never a threat to win the pole Friday at New Hampshire. He'll start 28th in the No. 14 Chevrolet, his second-worst qualifying run of the season.
Stewart was in the car for the first time since he learned a grand jury will decide his fate in the fatal sprint car crash in upstate New York.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Tuesday he made the decision to present the case to a grand jury after reviewing evidence collected by sheriff's investigators. Tantillo could have determined there was not enough evidence to support charges and dropped the case, but instead announced his decision more than a month after Stewart's car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt-track race Aug. 9.
Stewart has remained quiet since making a brief statement when he returned to the track three races ago at Atlanta. Some in the NASCAR garage are eager to see a resolution and learn more about the case.
"It kind of feels a little bit like a cop out that they send it to the grand jury," New Hampshire pole winner Brad Keselowski said. "I think everybody is wishing Tony the best and supporting him, and that's probably the most important thing."
Stewart spent three weeks in seclusion before returning for the final two races of the Sprint Cup season. He did not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, and finished 18th in the first Chase race Sunday at Chicagoland.
Experts have said Stewart could be charged with second-degree manslaughter under New York law if prosecutors believe he "recklessly caused the death of another person," with negligent homicide another possibility.
Stewart signed several autographs as he walked through the garage following the first practice session, saying little, with Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman Mike Arning by his side.
Stewart is a three-time champion with 48 career Cup wins in 542 starts.
"I think the whole industry and the world is waiting to see when Tony is able to sit at a mic and talk," six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "I'm like all of you; I'm just waiting."