Late Thursday afternoon Stewart-Haas Racing announced that NASCAR Sprint Cup series veteran Jeff Burton would pilot the #14 Mobil 1/ Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for the Pure Michigan 400 at the 2 mile track the Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 17.
Tony Stewart was on the initial entry list for Sunday’s scheduled race that was released by NASCAR this past Monday.
“Tony Stewart has decided not to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn,” said the release from SHR communications boss Mike Arning. “This driver change pertains only to Michigan. Stewart’s plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined.”
Stewart did not race last Sunday at Watkins Glen leaving the #14 in the hands of Regan Smith, a Nationwide Series driver regular, Smith drove to a 37th place finish for the Cheez-It 355.
Stewart sits in 21st place in the points after sitting out for last weekend’s race. But to remain eligible for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, the rules state a driver must attempt to qualify for all 26 races leading up to the Chase and be in the top 30 in points.
Along with the NASCAR has said in rare instances the requirement can be waived as long as the driver is in the top 30. Stewart has 537 points and the 30th place driver Michael Annett has 360 points, leaving Stewart 177 points to the good.
Stewart, while racing at a small half-mile dirt track in upstate New York, was involved in a fatal sprint car racing incident on Saturday night. Driver Kevin Ward Jr. suffered fatal injuries at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on the Ontario County Fairgrounds. The investigation in regards to the incident is ongoing.
Earlier in the week, Stewart canceled plans to race another dirt track race at Plymouth Speedway in Indiana. Arning indicated that all of Stewart’s racing plans, outside of NASCAR have been canceled and will not continue until further notice.
Stewart has not been seen in public since the fatally on Saturday night at Canandaigua, after his open wheel 360 Sprint Car struck the 20 year old driver Kevin Ward Jr. injuring Ward fatally.
With the police investigation under way it could be weeks, or months before the final findings are turned over by the police department to the local district attorney to see if charges are warranted. But the preliminary investigation at the scene the Ontario County Sheriff Philip Provero concluded that police were not looking at filing criminal charges against Stewart and that the NASCAR driver had been ‘fully co-operative.’
But even with the support of fellow drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, people feel the need to vilify Stewart on social media sites, claiming he is at fault for the incident.
Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing said that he couldn’t imagine what is going through Stewart’s mind, but that he would support him if he (Stewart) decides to skip Sunday’s race.
“Nobody wants to deal with something like that and we support Tony in whatever decision he makes,” said Biffle. “He has to personally make a decision on what he wants to do and we absolutely support that 100%.”
“Let’s face it, the obvious thing is it’s an accident and unfortunately accidents happen. No matter what, accidents happen and we have to at some point move on. It’s a tragedy for the Ward family and everyone involved.”
Burton has 21 victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has made two starts this season both with Michael Waltrip Racing. He finished 17th at Las Vegas in March and in July at New Hampshire he finished 20th. Next season Burton will be in the broadcast booth for NBC.
With 40 career starts at Michigan, Burton has four top-fives, 11 top-10s and two poles. Last season for Richard Childress Racing, Burton drove the #31 CAT Chevrolet to a 10th and 8th, respectively for both races at the 2 mile track.
The Pure Michigan 400 will be held on Sunday, Aug. 17 with coverage on ESPN beginning at 1 p.m. ET.