Stewart fill-in Jeff Burton wants to help start healing process

Jeff Burton will be racing Tony Stewart's No. 14 car this weekend.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Jeff Burton said Friday morning he hopes to help the healing process at Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend when he fills in for Tony Stewart in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Meanwhile, there is no timetable for Stewart’s return to competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Burton, SHR executive vice president Brett Frood and SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli met with reporters Friday morning at MIS, where Burton is substituting for Stewart.

Stewart will miss his second consecutive Sprint Cup race following the death of Kevin Ward Jr. last Saturday night in a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward was struck by Stewart’s car and killed during that race.

Regan Smith substituted for Stewart last week at Watkins Glen, and Burton is doing the same this week.

According to Burton, the team contacted him Wednesday morning about filling in this weekend in the No. 14. 

"My role here is hopefully to try and provide a little stability," he said. "Give that team the chance to have the most success that they can have in a very difficult situation. 

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"And hopefully me being here in some kind of way can help — I don’t know how — but hopefully I can find a way to help the healing process start. I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal. Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for everybody.  But there are a lot of people at Stewart Haas Racing who work really, really hard and deserve 100 percent effort from me, and that’s what they’re going to get."

When Stewart returns behind the wheel is still to be determined, with Burton on duty just for the Michigan race. "No decisions have been made about any upcoming races," SHR spokesman Mike Arning said. 

"We’ll talk to Tony and when he’s ready to get in the car, he’ll be in there and we’ll go from there," Frood said. "… Right now, the focus of everyone should be on the (Ward) family that’s grieving." 

Stewart has been shaken by the fatal crash. 

"It’s been an emotional week for him," Frood said. "He’s grieving.  Any time someone is lost, especially at a racetrack, it’s tragic.  It was a tragic accident, and he’s dealing with quite a bit of grief."

Frood also said the team isn’t concerned that Stewart will miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup for a second consecutive year.

"I’ll be honest, the Chase is of the lowest priority as it relates to Tony right now," he said. "… Right now, it’s about getting Tony in a better place than he is right now. When he’s ready to do that, he’ll be back in the car. I don’t care about the Chase."

The Stewart-Ward crash remains under investigation by local police in New York. Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip C. Povero said Tuesday he expects the police inquiry into the fatal crash to continue for at least two weeks or more. No charges have been filed. 

VIDEO: A review of the latest news involving Tony Stewart