Tony Stewart withdrew from the Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday after being involved in a sprint car incident during an Empire Super Sprint race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a dirt track about an hour-and-a-half drive from the road course at Watkins Glen.
The Canandaigua incident resulted in the death of fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr.
"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said in a statement. "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."
Stewart was not injured in the accident.
Ward and Stewart tangled, sending Ward's car into the retaining wall. Ward then climbed out of his car and walked toward cars still moving at a speed of about 40 mph around the race track. One car that reached Ward before Stewart was able to miss him, but even though Stewart swerved to miss, Ward was hit by Stewart's right-rear tire and thrown about 30 feet. Ward was dead by the time his ambulance reached an area hospital.
Originally, Stewart was still planning to compete in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, but just a little more than two hours before race time, Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli announced that Stewart had reconsidered and withdrawn.
"It's an emotional time right now," Zipadelli said.
Zipadelli, Stewart and others within the Stewart-Haas Racing organization Stewart co-owns refused to speak of the incident on Saturday night. It is being investigated by the Ontario County Sheriff's Office. No charges have been filed.
"Stewart has fully cooperated (with the ongoing investigation)," Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip C. Povero said. "He acknowledges the collision with the driver."
NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith will drive the No. 14 Sprint Cup Series entry normally driven by Stewart. Smith had already left Watkins Glen after the Nationwide Series raced at the track on Saturday. He returned to the track Sunday morning.
NASCAR issued the following statement soon after the announcement of Stewart's withdrawal:
"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.