NASCAR champion Tony Stewart will sit out the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday. It marks the second NASCAR race Stewart has missed in the wake of a fatal accident at a dirt track in New York State last Saturday. Monday, Stewart withdrew from the Bob Newton Classic sprint car race at Plymouth (Indiana) Speedway this coming Saturday.
Last Saturday night 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. who was outside of this car, was struck by Stewart during the feature event at Canandaigua Motorsports Park Raceway. Video showed Ward’s car as it came to rest on the back stretch after being involved with Stewart on the previous lap. Ward exited the vehicle, and still wearing his racing helmet walked toward the line of cars circling under caution. He angrily pointed towards the car driven by Stewart; Stewart’s car struck Ward who was thrown in the air and landed several feet away. Ward was later pronounced dead at FF Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua.
Sunday morning Stewart’s team announced that their driver had decided to sit out the race at Watkins Glen. Regan Smith substituted. Tuesday Ontario County (NY) Sheriff Philip Povero said the investigation into the racing accident will take two more weeks. In statement emailed to the press as well as posted on the department website, said the investigation “is ongoing and is expected to continue for at least another two weeks or more. Investigators continue to seek witnesses, gather evidence, and develop the racetrack crash reconstruction.”
During the Watkins Glen race, Stewart issued a statement that read, "There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It's a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I've decided not to participate in today's race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."
The emailed announcement Thursday from Stewart-Haas Racing said veteran driver Jeff Burton, a winner of 21 Sprint Cup races, will pilot the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in place of Stewart. The statement added that the driver change pertains only to Michigan. Stewart’s plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined.
Stewart was involved in an accident in July 2013 at the same track that left 19-year-old driver Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back. The Columbus Indiana native and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion later took responsibility for triggering the 15-car accident.
Stewart returned to sprint car racing last month nearly a year after breaking his leg in a crash at an Iowa track during a sprint car race. The accident forced him to sit out the the second half of the 2013 NASCAR season. He didn’t return to racing until February when preparation for NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 began.
In related news concerning the incident, Wednesday Ward’s father spoke out for the first time.
“Apparently, Tony Stewart was the only one driving out there who didn’t see him,” Ward Sr. said.
He added the reason, his son Kevin Jr. got out of the car was to retaliate for the contact between Ward Jr. and Stewart on the previous lap.
“I think the reason he probably got out of that car is who put him into the wall. He was definitely put into the wall,” Ward Sr. said.
Ward Sr. also wondered when, or if, Stewart would speak publicly beyond the statement his team of representatives issued Sunday.
“The one person that knows what happened that night is possibly facing 10 years in prison. Is he going to say what he done?” Ward Sr. said.
The announcement that Stewart will sit out the Michigan race comes on the same day that Ward Jr. was laid to rest. The funeral drew over 700 mourners.