BROOKLYN, Mich.– Tony Stewart will sit out his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in a decision made by the three-time premier series champion himself following last Saturday night’s tragedy with sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.
Ward Jr. was fatally injured when he was hit by a winged sprint car driven by Stewart at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. The next day, Stewart withdrew from the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International and was replaced by NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith.
Thursday afternoon Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Jeff Burton would drive the team’s entry in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET on ESPN). The team reiterated on Friday morning at MIS that no timetable has been set for Stewart’s return.
“The 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 racecar and will take it week by week. Tony is surrounded right now by his closest friends and family.”
Burton said he received the call from SHR on Wednesday morning about potentially driving for Stewart, if he decided not to 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,” offered Burton. “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.
“Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for everyone. But there’s a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing that work really, really hard and deserve 100 percent effort from me and that’s what they’re going to get.”
Stewart-Haas Racing would not specify if Burton would drive for the team next weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway should Stewart decide (again) not to compete. Burton qualified the No. 14 Chevy 27th Friday afternoon.