Tony Stewart decided not to drive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Watkins Glen, N.Y., following the death of Kevin Ward Jr. and issued a statement that in part said, "There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident."
Ward was apparently struck by Stewart's sprint car Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Stewart released the following statement Sunday about the incident:
"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 WGI. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."
During a news conference Sunday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero said there is no evidence of "criminal intent" on Stewart's part in the crash. He said Stewart has been cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
"He's been interviewed and....has made himself available again if it's necessary," Povero said.
Povero emphasized that video footage of the accident "is very important and crucial to our investigation" and that his department is looking for deeper analysis of the incident from people who are familiar with sprint-car racing. He said Stewart was driving 35-40 mph at the time of the incident.
"There are no foregone conclusions.… We are looking for any information, any relevant evidence."
Earlier in the day, Greg Zipadelli, competition director of Stewart-Haas Racing, appeared shaken as he addressed the media at Watkins Glen to tell reporters that Stewart would not race Sunday. Zipadelli was the person who issued an earlier "business as usual" statement.
"It's an unbelievable tragedy," Zipadelli said. "Our hearts go out to Kevin and his family. This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody, his family, our family at Stewart Haas, Tony Stewart. With that being said we felt as a group that Tony will not drive today." Stewart will be replaced in the car by Regan Smith in the Sprint Cup race.
"Obviously we talked last night and gave Tony some time to sleep on it," Zipadelli said. "I met with him this morning and he feels strongly this is the right thing to do. We at SHR [Stewart-Haas racing] support it and agree with it. It's a difficult time for both parties." Zipadelli spoke of his closeness to Stewart.
"He's more than a boss," Zipadelli said. "It's emotional for him and as a group we support him and feel like he's doing the right thing. I support Tony Stewart, I think I've shown that over the last 18 years."