BROOKLYN, Mich. – Tony Stewart is skipping a second straight Sprint Cup race, and it is not clear when the NASCAR star might return after he struck and killed a driver at a dirt-track race in New York last weekend.
“This decision was Tony’s,” said Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing. “An emotional week for him. He’s grieving – made the decision he’s not ready to get in the race car and will take it week by week.”
Jeff Burton will drive the No. 14 car in Stewart’s place in Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. Frood said they haven’t discussed any other races.
Last Saturday during a sprint car race in Canandaigua, New York, Stewart appeared to clip Kevin Ward Jr.’s car, sending it spinning, Ward left the car during the caution period, walked down the track and was hit by Stewart’s car. His funeral was Thursday.
Stewart could face criminal charges. Frood said Friday that Stewart was surrounded by his closest friends and family, although he didn’t say where.
Defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said he’s tried to contact Stewart but hasn’t heard back.
“I’d imagine there’s still a lot going on, and I’d assume he’s being advised to keep comments to a minimum right now with all the legal things that are out there pending,” Johnson said. “As much as I’m concerned for Tony and his well-being, the pain and sorrow that the Ward family and friends are going through – it’s such a sad, sad set of circumstances.”
Burton, who made his Cup debut in 1993, has been making the transition to the broadcast booth, but he’s ready to help SHR in Stewart’s absence, at least for this race.
“My role here is to hopefully provide a little stability, give that team a chance to have the most success they can have in a very difficult situation,” Burton said.
“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 a healing process start. I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody.”
Stewart is winless and 21st in the Cup standings this season.
It’s not clear what sitting out does for Stewart’s chances to reach the Chase for the Sprint Cup. NASCAR rules say a driver must either qualify the car or race the car each weekend. NASCAR does have the power to grant a waiver.
“The Chase is of the lowest priority as it relates to Tony right now,” Frood said. “Right now it’s about getting Tony in a better place than he is. When he’s ready to do that, he’ll get back in the car.”