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Tony Stewart To Sit Out After Deadly Crash



(AP) - Tony Stewart will not race Sunday following the death of a sprint car driver who was struck and killed by Stewart at an upstate New York dirt track.

Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said the three-time NASCAR champion "feels strongly" he should not race at Watkins Glen following Kevin Ward Jr.'s fatal accident. Regan Smith will replace Stewart in the car.

Ward had climbed from his car on the darkened dirt track and was trying to confront Stewart when he was struck Saturday night.

Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero Povero said that the driver was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital and added that Stewart was "fully cooperative ... He is very upset and confirmed his continuing cooperation" with the investigation. An autopsy is pending. Povero said the county District Attorney had been notified, but no charges had been filed. 

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."

A spokesman for Stewart's racing team called Ward's death a "tragic accident."

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends," the spokesman said in a statement. "We're still attempting to sort through all the details."

Video of the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park showed Ward, in the No. 13 car, spin into a wall after contact with Stewart's car. The video showed Ward, wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, climb quickly from his car and briskly walk around it in what appeared to be an attempt to confront Stewart as he passed by in his own car, Stewart's familiar No. 14.

The video showed Ward to the right of Stewart's car, which seemed to kick out from the rear and hit Ward. The driver was hurtled through the air and emergency personnel quickly reached Ward as he lay on the track.

Michael Messerly, a fan who witnessed the crash, told The Associated Press it appeared Stewart hit the driver as he was walking on the dimly lit track after they had collided on the previous lap.

He said the driver was wearing a dark racing suit as Stewart's car passed him.

"I didn't see (the other driver) anymore," he said. "It just seemed like he was suddenly gone."

Messerly said the crash appeared to be the result of "a number of bad decisions" and not "any intent on Tony Stewart's part."

"Auto racing is a dangerous sport," he said. "I think it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances that created a tragic situation."

Stewart was racing in one of the track's Empire Super Sprints events. The other scheduled races were canceled following the crash. 

Stewart, 42, was scheduled to race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series event at Watkins Glen International  racetrack Sunday afternoon.  Stewart has won the NASCAR Sprint Cup series championship three times, in 2002, 2005, and 2011. 

The accident came just four days after Stewart marked the one-year anniversary of an accident in a sprint car race in Iowa, where he suffered a compound fracture to his right leg. The injury cost him the second half of the NASCAR season.

Stewart was also involved in a July 2013 accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.

The track posted a message on its Facebook page encouraging fans to "pray for the entire racing community of fans, drivers, and families."

Ward's website said he began racing go-karts in 1998 at age 4, but didn't start driving sprint cars until 2010. He was Empire Super Sprint rookie of the year in 2012 and this year was his fifth season racing the Empire Super Sprints.


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