Three time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has been withdrawn from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen. Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition said that Stewart "feels strongly" about not racing and had made the decision. He will be replaced by driver Regan Smith. The announcement came only hours after Zipadelli said Stewart would compete after being involved in fatal crash during a sprint car race at Canandiagua Motorsports Park in upstate New York.
"We gave Tony some time to sleep on it. He feels strongly this is the right thing to do," Zipadelli said. "All you can do is what you feel is right, and we feel this is right. We get through today and do it the best we can as a group.
"He's going through a tough time," he added. "It's emotional for him."
Saturday night 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. who was outside of this car, was struck by Stewart during the feature event. 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.
Stewart’s team released a statement early Sunday:
“A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time.”
Ontario County (NY) Sheriff Philip Povero said Stewart was “fully co-operative” and appeared “very upset” after the incident adding that the investigation is not criminal and that no charges have been filed.
Witness accounts varied with some saying that Stewart appeared to intentionally swerve towards Ward, while others said Stewart seemed to turn to get out of Ward’s way.
NASCAR later issued a statement:
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”
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.