Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
Late Saturday night that anticipation took a tragic turn when 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. died from injuries resulting from an incident involving three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart at Canandaigua Motorsports Park during the Lucas Oil Super Sprint feature race.
“It is an unbelievable tragedy. Our hearts obviously go out to Kevin and his family, our family and Tony Stewart. We (Tony) talked last night and I met with Tony this morning and we decided that this is the right thing for us to do,” Zipadelli said.
At 10:20 a.m. Sunday morning Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, announced that NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith would race the No. 14 car in place of Tony Stewart for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. Smith currently sits in second place in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings, and competed in the Sprint Cup Series from 2007 to 2013.
When asked about how this decision would impact the team’s chance to contend for the Sprint Cup Championship, Zipadelli responded by refocusing on today’s race and everyone involved in the fatal tragedy.
“Honestly that (championship bid) is the furthest thing from our minds," Zipadelli said. "It is the well-being of Kevin’s family and Tony and the people at our company. That’s (the championship bid) something that when we get home on Monday we’ll have to look at and evaluate and make decisions"
"Today is all about doing what we can do today and to do it the best we can as a group, and try to do it the right way,” he added.
Shortly after Zipadelli's announcement, NASCAR released the following statement:
“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.”
Stewart is a five-time winner at Watkins Glen. Coming into race weekend he was viewed as one of the favorites for the all-important win that would place him in contention for the Sprint Cup Championship. Stewart is currently in 19th place in the driver standings. In the new Chase format, the top 16 drivers will compete for the first round of the championship.
UPDATE: Tony Stewart released a statement at 1:33 p.m. Sunday:
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”