Tony Stewart will not race in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race after he struck and killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr., who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York on Saturday night.
Greg Zipadelli, the competition director for Stewart-Haas racing, announced the decision Sunday morning. Regan Smith will race in place of Stewart.
"He's going through a tough time. It's emotional for him," Zipadelli said of Stewart.
Zipadelli said Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, "feels strongly'' he should not race at Watkins Glen following Ward's fatal accident. He said it was Stewart's decision not to race.
"I support Tony Stewart. I think I have shown that over the last 18 years," Zipadelli said.
Earlier Sunday, Zipadelli had said Stewart would race, calling it "business as usual." The race is critical for Stewart's championship chances but he decided to sit out the race after taking "some time to sleep on it," Zipadelli said.
"[Stewart] feels strongly this is the right thing to do. We at SHR support it and agree with it. It's a difficult time for both parties. This is what we feel is right and we're supporting Tony in it," Zipadelli said.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr.," NASCAR said in a statement Sunday. "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."
Bass Pro Shops, which is Stewart's primary sponsor, said it a statement that it was "deeply saddened" by the accident.
"We send our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of sprint car competitor Kevin Ward Jr and also to Tony Stewart and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing," it said in the statement.
Stewart was unhurt in Saturday night's accident.
"He was visibly shaken by this accident," Povero said. "... This is right now being investigated as an on-track crash and I don't want to infer that there are criminal charges pending. When the investigation is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it. But I want to make it very clear: there are no criminal charges pending at this time."
A video of the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park showed driver Ward, wearing a black helmet and firesuit on a dimly lit track, walking toward Stewart's car before being hit and hurtled 50 feet. Povero said the the 25-lap race was under caution when Ward was struck. Stewart's car was behind another before he hit Ward.
"The first car swerved to avoid the driver," Povero said.
Ward, 20, was pronounced dead Saturday night at a hospital in Canandaigua.
Povero said the 43-year-old Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion and frequent competitor at local sprint car events, was questioned and released. The sheriff is asking for people who have video of the crash to contact the office so copies can be obtained for review.
"People that witnessed it were horrified," Povero said of the crash. "They were extremely shocked."