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Stewart pulls out of Plymouth race
Tony Stewart will not race Saturday night at Plymouth Speedway, the track posted on its website and Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed Monday.
He had been scheduled to race at the Indiana track on the eve of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Stewart won’t resume that type of racing “until further notice,” Stewart-Haas spokesman Mike Arning said in an email to the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
– News services

Stewart undecided on Michigan race; autopsy completed

Tony Stewart has not yet decided whether he will drive in this weekend's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, a team spokesman said Monday.

Stewart pulled out of Sunday's NASCAR race in Watkins Glen, New York, after his car struck and killed a 20-year-old driver, Kevin Ward Jr., while Ward was on foot during a sprint-car race Saturday night in upstate New York.

After contact with Stewart's car caused Ward's car to crash, Ward climbed from his car and was standing on the track and gesturing toward Stewart when Stewart's car hit him.

Stewart, who co-owns his NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing, “will have as much time as he needs to make that decision” about racing Sunday in Michigan, Stewart-Haas spokesman Mike Arning said in an email.

“It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included,” Arning said. “He is grieving, and grief doesn't have a timetable.”

Ward died of blunt-force trauma, an autopsy determined.

Ontario County, New York, Sheriff Philip Povero said the autopsy was completed Monday.

Authorities questioned Stewart on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. Povero said Monday there were no plans “at this time” to talk to him again.

There is no timetable to complete the investigation. Povero said there is nothing in the inquiry that supports criminal conduct or probable cause. He said there was no camera in Stewart's car.

During the dirt-track race, Ward's car spun twice like a top, wheels hugging the wall, before it plopped backward on the dimly lit dirt track.

In a sport steeped with bravado, what happened next was a familiar, but treacherous, move: Wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, Ward unbuckled himself, climbed out of the winged car into the night and defiantly walked onto the track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

He gestured, making his disgust evident with the driver who triggered the wreck with a bump: Stewart, who often races in sprint cars on dirt tracks. Many NASCAR drivers, including Stewart, got their start on the short ovals.

Ward, a relative unknown compared with NASCAR's noted swashbuckler, was nearly hit by another passing car as he pointed with his right arm in Stewart's direction. As he confronted Stewart in his passing car, disaster struck.

Ward was standing to the right of Stewart's No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him. According to video and witness accounts, Ward was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.

The crash raised several questions: Will Ward's death cause drivers to think twice about on-track confrontations? Did Stewart try to send his own message by buzzing Ward, only to have his risky move turn fatal? Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesuit on a dark track?

The only one who may have that answer is Stewart.

David Weinsten, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice, said it would be difficult to prove criminal intent.

“I think even with the video, it's going to be tough to prove that this was more than just an accident and that it was even culpable negligence, which he should've known or should've believed that by getting close to this guy, that it was going to cause the accident,” he said.

Driver Cory Sparks, a friend of Ward's, was a few cars back when Ward was killed. “The timing was unsafe,” he said of Ward's decision to get out of his car to confront Stewart. “When your adrenaline is going, and you're taken out of a race, your emotions flare.”

It's often just a part of racing. Drivers from mild-mannered Jeff Gordon to Danica Patrick have erupted in anger on the track at another driver. The confrontations are part of the sport's allure: Fans love it and cheer wildly from the stands. Stewart, who has a reputation for being a hothead nicknamed “Smoke,” once wound up like a pitcher and tossed his helmet like a fastball at Matt Kenseth's windshield.

Saturday's crash came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa.

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