Stewart Will Not Drive Today

Tony Stewart

Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Regan Smith will drive for Tony Stewart in today's race at Watkins Glen International. (Photo: Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Regan Smith will replace Tony Stewart in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International, a day after Stewart was involved in a fatal sprint car accident.

Sprint car driver Kevin Ward, Jr., 20, died after he was struck by Stewart’s car during a race Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

“(Stewart) feels strongly this is the right thing to do,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, speaking three hours before Sunday’s race. “We at SHR support him and agree with it. It’s a difficult time for both parties. There’s not a lot you can do. The only thing you can do is do what we feel is right, and this is what we feel is right.

“There were a few of us that were in there just supporting him. He’s a brother to me, way more than a boss. He’s going through tough times. It’s emotional for him.’’

NASCAR issued a statement Sunday: “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.”

Smith flew back to the track Sunday morning. He had returned to his Charlotte-area home after finishing 17th in Saturday’s Nationwide race at Watkins Glen. The driver change means that Smith will start at the rear of the 43-car field.

Stewart was competing in a Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints race Saturday night when the fatal incident happened.

During the feature, Stewart was running underneath Ward’s car in Turns 1 and 2 on the half-mile dirt track. As they raced side-by-side on lap 14 of the 25-lap race, Ward’s car bounced off the wall and spun. A YouTube video shows Ward exiting his car, walking down the track and pointing toward Stewart as the race was under caution.

A press release from the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s office states “two racecars traveling in tandem approached as (Ward) continued down the track, gesturing to the two approaching cars. The first car served to avoid the driver out on the track. The second car, operated by Tony Stewart, struck the driver.’’

Video shows the right side of Stewart’s car hitting Ward, causing Ward to violently tumble along the track. Medical personnel arrived within seconds. Ward was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:15 p.m., about 45 minutes after the incident, according to the Ontario County Sheriff’s office. An autopsy has been ordered.

The rest of the race was canceled.

Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that Stewart “was visibly shaken by this incident and has promised his continuing cooperation in this investigation.’’

Povero, speaking at an early-morning press conference, described the investigation as an “on-track crash investigation.’’

Povero said that the district attorney’s office has been notified, which is standing operating procedure in any death investigation, but there are no charges pending. Povero gave no timetable on when he thought the investigation would be completed.

Ward began racing go-karts at age 4. He went on to win six track championships and about 250 features in eight years of go-kart racing.

He began driving a micro sprint in 2007, finishing second in the points. He won the championship in that division in 2008 and ’09. In 2010, he began driving a 360 Sprint Car. He scored his first win in that division in 2011. He was listed as seventh in the points in the Empire Super Sprints as of July 21, the most recent standings available on the series’ website. He had two top-five finishes and four top-10 results to that point.

 

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