Stewart sits out race after hitting and killing driver
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - The day after he struck and killed a fellow driver at Canandaigua Motorsports Park NASCAR star Tony Stewart withdrew from the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
Driving in a Sprint Car race Stewart hit 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. after Ward got out of his car and onto the track to try and confront Stewart during the race.
According to Associated Press reports Stewart was questioned by the police and released and no criminal charges are imminent. The Associated Press reports that Stewart is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
"We know that it's just an unbelievable tragedy," Competition Director at Stewart-Haas racing Greg Zipadelli said Sunday morning. "Our hearts go out obviously to Kevin and his family, thoughts and prayers. This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody. His family, our family at Stewart-Haas, Tony Stewart.
"With that being said we feel that as a group Tony will not drive today. Regan Smith is on his way up, NASCAR has approved for him to get in the race car today."
In a statement Stewart expressed sadness over what happened.
"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."
Smith, a New York native, filled in for Stewart on Sunday and finished 37th in the race.
For Smith it was a bit of an adjustment running in someone else's car.
"It's close enough," he said. "Obviously it's not perfect, it's never going to be perfect when you are in someone else's car."
Smith was having a solid day until getting caught up when Jimmie Johnson crashed in Turn One on lap 81.
Originally Stewart-Haas racing had announced that Stewart would run in the race, but that changed Sunday morning.
"Obviously, we talked last night and then realizing, going through the night, gave Tony some time to sleep on it, and met with him this morning and he feels strongly this is the right thing to do.
"We at SHR support it and agree with it. It's a difficult time for both parties. There's not a lot you can do. The only thing we can do is do what we feel is right and this is it. This is what we feel is right and are supporting Tony in it."
Zipadelli said that there were a few people who talked with Stewart as he made his decision.
"Yeah, there was a few of us that were in there just supporting him," Zipadelli said. "He's a brother to me. He's way more than a boss. He's going through a tough time, it's emotional for him. So we're, like I said, we as a group support him, feel like he's doing the right thing and we'll move on from this."
NASCAR offered a statement supporting Stewart's decision not to race.
"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."
The drivers also were thinking of the victim.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ward family, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved," Kurt Busch said.
AJ Allmendinger's race owner Brad Daugherty echoed Busch's thoughts.
"Obviously a catastrophic evening last evening and our thoughts go out to the family," he said. "It's been a difficult day for the Stewart-Haas family. Our hearts go out to Tony, but specifically out to the family. I think Stewart-Haas and Tony did the right thing by not racing today."
Sunday's race winner AJ Allmendinger said the death impacted all of the drivers.
"It's one of those things you look back at and it's a tough time for everybody," he said. "This NASCAR community as a whole we are a family. All of our thoughts and prayers it goes to the Ward family and it also goes to Tony. "
In 2013 Stewart had an incident at the same track that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. Stewart later took responsibility for making contact that started the 15-car accident which injured Alysha Ruggles.
Almost exactly a year ago Stewart suffered a broken leg at a Sprint Cup race in Iowa which cost him the chance to run at Watkins Glen and cost him the rest of his season.
Stewart just returned to Sprint Cup racing last month and is winless on the season and came into Sunday 19th in the standings. He had qualified to start 13th in the race.
Stewart is still eligible for the Chase after qualifying for Sunday's race, you must attempt to qualify for every race, but he received no points Sunday at a track he has won five times.
While Watkins Glen was one of Stewart's best chances at a victory that would get him in the Chase that wasn't something anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing was thinking about on Sunday.
"No, honestly, that is the furthest thing from our minds right now," Zipadelli said. "The well being of Kevin's family and Tony and the people at our company. That's something that, when we get home on Monday, we'll have to look at and evaluate and go through that and make decisions.
"Today is all about doing what we can do today to get through today and do it the best we can as a group and try to do it in the right way. So we haven't even crossed that bridge yet."