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.”