Tony Stewart did an about face and pulled out of a NASCAR race at Watkins Glen Sunday, 12 hours after the three-time champion struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the same dirt track trying to confront Stewart during a race.
Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said at a news conference that Stewart "feels strongly" about not racing Sunday following Kevin Ward Jr.'s fatal accident.
The decision was a sudden change of heart for the organization, which had said when the track opened that Stewart would be behind the wheel of his No. 14 Chevrolet when the green flag waved at the New York track.
"We gave Tony some time to sleep on it. He feels strongly this is the right thing to do," Zipadelli said. "All you can do is what you feel is right, and we feel this is right. We get through today and do it the best we can as a group.
"He's going through a tough time. It's emotional for him."
Regan Smith will drive Stewart's car instead.
Ward had crashed following contact with Stewart one lap earlier and got out of his car as it was stopped along the fence. Graphic video of the incident (bottom) showed Ward walking from his crashed car onto the racing surface as cars circled by, and, as he gestured at Stewart's passing car, he was struck.
Authorities questioned Stewart but said no criminal charges were imminent. Stewart traveled to Watkins Glen International following police questioning.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said Stewart was "visibly shaken" and had been cooperative in the investigation. Authorities were asking spectators and others to turn over any video they recorded of the crash.
"This is right now being investigated as an on-track crash and I don't want to infer that there are criminal charges pending," Povero said. "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 witness said it appeared Ward was trying to confront Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. The video showed Ward standing to the right of Stewart's familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to kick out from the rear and hit him.
Moments earlier, Ward and Stewart were racing side-by-side for position as they exited a turn. Ward was on the outside when Stewart, on the bottom, seemed to slide toward Ward's car and crowd him toward the wall. The rear tire of Stewart's car appeared to clip the front tire of Ward's car, and Ward spun into the fence.
Povero said Ward, who was wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, had walked into the racing area and one car swerved to avoid him before he was struck by Stewart.
"The next thing I could see, I didn't see (the other driver) anymore," witness Michael Messerly said. "It just seemed like he was suddenly gone."
A spokesman for Stewart's racing team called Ward's death a "tragic accident."