Tony Stewart will not race Sunday in aftermath of Ward Jr. death

BY Tom Jensen • August 14, 2014

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will not compete in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 race at Michigan International Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing announced late Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Jeff Burton will take Stewart's place behind the wheel of the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet at Michigan. For now, this is a one-race deal, and the team said plans beyond this weekend have not yet been determined.

Stewart-Haas Racing made the announcement shortly after 5 p.m. ET Thursday, just hours after the funeral of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., who died Saturday night after being struck by Stewart's sprint car at an Empire Super Sprints Series race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward's funeral drew more than 700 mourners for a 90-minute service at South Lewis High School in Turin, N.Y.

This is the second consecutive race Stewart has missed.

Last Sunday, Stewart skipped the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., where his seat was filled by Regan Smith, who finished 37th.

Prior to the Watkins Glen race, Stewart issued a statement that read, "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."

Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip C. Povero said Tuesday that he expects the police investigation into the fatal crash to continue for at least two weeks or more.

Earlier this week, Stewart withdrew from the Aug. 16 Bob Newton Classic sprint car race at Plymouth (Indiana) Speedway.

Burton has 21 career victories in 693 starts and this year has competed in just two races, while also doing testing for Michael Waltrip Racing. Nicknamed "The Mayor," Burton is one of the most articulate and respected drivers in the sport. Next year, he will leave the cockpit to become a television analyst.

The full text of the Stewart-Haas Racing release:

"Tony Stewart has decided not to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

"Veteran driver Jeff Burton, a winner of 21 Sprint Cup races, will pilot the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in place of Stewart.

"This driver change pertains only to Michigan. Stewart's plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined.

"At 10 a.m. EDT on Friday in the deadline room of the infield media center at Michigan, Burton will be part of a press briefing featuring SHR executive vice president Brett Frood and SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli."

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