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Stewart decides against racing this weekend at MIS

08/15/2014, 12:28am EDT
By RACHEL LENZI BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Stewart to sit out MIS race

Tony Stewart will not race this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. ASSOCIATED PRESS

BROOKLYN, Mich. — ‎Tony Stewart will not drive this weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced on Thursday in a release that Stewart will not compete in the wake of the death of Kevin Ward, Jr., in a sprint car accident Saturday in Canandaigua, N.Y.

Ward's funeral was Thursday in Booneville, N.Y.

‎Jeff Burton will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet this weekend at MIS. Burton, Greg Zipadelli, Stewart Haas Racing’s vice president of competition, and Brett Frood, SHR’s executive vice president, will address the media at 10 a.m. today at MIS.

Stewart’s plans for the Sprint Cup races after the Pure Michigan 400 remain to be determined.

COMMENTARY: Only Stewart knows intent after wreck

Stewart has not spoken publicly since Ward’s death Saturday night, and he did not drive Sunday in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Regan Smith drove in place of Stewart, who released a statement on Sunday.

“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.”

Amateur video footage posted and circulated online showed that Stewart’s sprint car collided with the car of Ward, a 20-year-old driver, sending Ward’s car into the wall at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

With the race under caution, Ward got out of his car and ran toward the middle of the dimly lit track, pointing as Stewart's car approached. Stewart appeared to try to maneuver his car out of the way as Ward stood on the track, but the car made contact with Ward, who was dragged under the car.

In a matter of seconds, ambulances and medical personnel began to treat Ward on the track. Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital at 11:15 p.m. on Saturday, 45 minutes after the accident. Stewart was unhurt.

Earlier this week, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povano said no criminal charges have been filed against Stewart but that an investigation was expected to last at least two more weeks.

Kevin Harvick, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, told the Associated Press on Thursday that he doesn’t believe Stewart’s actions were intentional.

“We just have to let it all play out,” Harvick said. “I do know that Tony is a great friend of mine, I've known him a long time, and he probably has the biggest heart of anybody in that garage. He's a really good person and would never do anything like that on purpose."

Greg Biffle said Wednesday that he decided not to reach out to Stewart following the accident.

“I just thought that it would be best to let him have some space right now,” Biffle said. “I know he's going through a lot. It's got to be difficult for anyone to be in that position.

“This is a tragic situation for everyone involved, and everybody thinks about the Ward family when we think about this. But at the same time, Tony is going through a lot, as well. We just hope that everybody finds peace in the whole thing.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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