Hours after funeral services were held for Kevin Ward Jr., the 20-year-old driver struck and killed during a race by Tony Stewart's car, Stewart's team said the former NASCAR champion would skip his second consecutive NASCAR race this weekend.
Stewart "decided not to compete" in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway and veteran Jeff Burton will drive Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet at the two-mile oval track, Stewart-Haas Racing said Thursday.
The team did not elaborate on Stewart's decision.
After Michigan, "Stewart's plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined," the team said, adding that Burton and team executives would address the media Friday morning at Michigan International.
The 43-year-old Stewart also pulled out of the previous Cup race last weekend in Watkins Glen, N.Y., only hours after the fatal incident involving Ward.
The 90-minute funeral service for Ward took place at the high school he attended in Turin, N.Y., to accommodate the crowd that included many members of the close-knit racing community in central New York.
With Ward lying in an open casket decorated with racing flags and orange flowers, one of the family's team colors, mourners shed tears and laughed at their favorite stories about the driver.
"Even if he had a rough day, he always had a smile," Dylan Swiernick said of his best friend during the service, according to the Associated Press. "We were just two small-town boys trying to make it in the big world."
During a non-NASCAR, sprint-car race Saturday at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a half-mile dirt track, Ward was struck by Stewart's car after Ward climbed from his wrecked vehicle, stood on the track and appeared to angrily gesture toward Stewart as Stewart circled back around.
Stewart has not been charged with any wrongdoing but an investigation by the Ontario County sheriff's office continues.
Under NASCAR's rules, a driver is supposed to attempt to qualify in all 26 of the Cup series' regular-season races to be eligible for its 10-race Chase for the Cup title playoff. So Stewart's decision to sit out this weekend might mean he's officially out of Chase contention.
NASCAR can grant a waiver, mainly in the case of a driver's illness or injury, but it wasn't yet clear whether NASCAR would take that step with Stewart, a three-time Cup champion and one of the sport's most popular drivers.
The issue is likely to be raised Friday morning when Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, will hold a press conference at Michigan International.
Stewart also must start a Cup race to collect any championship points. With four races left until the Chase starts, Stewart already was in danger of missing the 16-driver Chase.
Drivers with regular-season wins earn Chase berths, as do those winless drivers who are highest in the point standings. Stewart does not have a victory this year and is 21st in the standings, currently too low to make the Chase.
Michigan International is hosting its second Cup race of the season; Jimmie Johnson won the first race in June.
Follow Jim Peltz on Twitter @PeltzLATimesCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times