Tony Stewart will not race today; Regan Smith to drive No. 14 (UPDATED with NASCAR statement)

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UPDATE, 11:15 a.m. ET: NASCAR has just issued a statement on the situation:

“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.”

In a short press conference this morning at Watkins Glen International, Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli confirmed that Tony Stewart will not compete in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355.

Zipadelli said that NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith, who has made 171 career Sprint Cup starts, will fill in for Stewart in the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet.

This decision comes after Zipadelli reportedly told USA Today that Sunday would be “business as usual” for the No. 14 team.

Stewart was involved in an incident Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in which he struck and killed an on-foot driver during a sprint car event.

“It’s just a unbelievable tragedy,” Zipadelli said this morning. “Our hearts go out to obviously Kevin and his family, thoughts and prayers. This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody – his family, our family, Stewart Haas, Tony Stewart.

“So, with that being said, we feel 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. They’re gonna do everything they can to help us expedite getting his seat so he can be comfortable.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been working on and trying to get executed – get Regan here and obviously, anything we can do for Tony and everybody else. It’s just an emotional time right now.”

Zipadelli said that he met with Stewart this morning, and that “he feels strongly that this is the right thing to do.”

“We at SHR support it and agree with it,” he said. “Like I said, 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 what we feel is right. We’re supporting Tony in it.”

Stewart was to start 13th in today’s event and was still seeking to earn a regular season win that would put him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

However, by not starting today’s race, he will be eliminated from post-season contention.

But Zipadelli insisted that the Chase scenario was “the furthest thing from our minds right now” and today was simply about getting through the race “the best we can as a group.”

“There’s a few of us who were in there just supporting him,” he added. “He’s a brother to me…He’s way more than a boss. He’s going through a tough time and it’s emotional for him. Like I said, as a group, we support him.

“We feel like he’s doing the right thing, and we’ll move on from this.”

Audi bids farewell to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich upon retirement

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Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.

Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.

“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.

“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”