Team: Tony Stewart will not race; Regan Smith will sub

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Tony Stewart will not race Sunday at Watkins Glen International.

Just a few hours after telling USA TODAY Sports that Sunday would be ''business as usual,'' and Stewart would race as scheduled, the team has reversed course.

Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, announced the three-time Sprint Cup champion would not start the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen a day after striking and killing an on-foot driver in a sprint car race.

Regan Smith will start in his place.

"It's an emotional time right now," Zipadelli said.​

Zipadelli, who said the team would not discuss last night's incident, said he met with Stewart this morning and "he feels strongly this is the right thing to do. We at SHR support it and agree with it. It's a difficult time for both parties. This is what we feel is right and we're supporting Tony in it."

Zipadelli originally told USA TODAY Sports that Stewart would start today and ''we're business as usual.''

Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., 20, who approached his car on-foot after an on-track incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, about an hour north of Watkins Glen International.

"Everything that's been made available to us at this time would not preclude (Stewart) from participating in this event here today," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said earlier Sunday morning.

He also said earlier that NASCAR has been monitoring the situation and will "honor the process and respect the timeline of the local authorities."

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends and competitors and everyone involved at that complex up there," Tharp said. "While it was a non-NASCAR-sanctioned event, everyone in the motor sports community has feelings for these types of situations. We've been through them before."

But about 15 minutes later, Tharp said it was too early to say whether Stewart would be racing at Watkins Glen because NASCAR was still gathering information.

There was no immediate comment from NASCAR in light of Zipadelli's new remarks.

During Saturday night's sprint car race, Ward Jr. was spun out by Stewart, got out of his car to show his displeasure and then was struck by Stewart's car, sending Ward sliding down the track, fellow sprint car racer Tyler Graves and witness Adam Dulski told USA TODAY Sports.

"This is an ongoing investigation of an on-track crash," Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip C. Povero said early Sunday morning.

The crash was a topic of conversation early Sunday morning among race fans at Watkins Glen.

"Everybody was talking about it, and everybody has seen the video," said 42-year-old Leo Smith of Perinton, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. Smith camped at the track and had spoken with 10-15 other fans by 7:30 a.m. "It's crazy," he said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted Sunday: "We will all loose someone in our time. When a loss is sudden and unexpected, the pain & sadness is suffocating. Prayers for the Ward family."

Jeff Gordon will start on the pole for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. Stewart, a five-time Watkins Glen winner, qualified 13th.

"We know it's just an unbelievable tragedy," Zipadelli said during a hastily called news conference at 10:15 a.m. "Our hearts go out to Kevin and his family. Thoughts and prayers. This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody -- his family, our family at Stewart-Haas, Tony Stewart."

Zipadelli said NASCAR had approved Smith to fill in and would help the team adjust the equipment for him.

Stewart, who co-owns the four-car stable Stewart-Haas Racing, could be eliminated from Chase for the Sprint Cup consideration by not starting. NASCAR's new playoff format rules include that drivers start each of the 26 races leading up to the Chase to be eligible.

"Honestly, that is the furthest thing from our minds right now," said Zipadelli, who indicated he would have supported whatever decision Stewart made. "We're thinking of Kevin's family and Tony and the people at our company. That's something that, when we get home on Monday, we'll have to look at and evaluate and go through that and make decisions. Today is all about doing what we can today to get through today and get through it the best we can as a group -- and try to do it in the right way.​ We haven't even crossed that bridge yet."

Stewart, a multimillionaire who broke his right leg in a sprint car accident in Iowa just over a year ago, will miss his first Cup start since missing the second half of 2013 to recover.


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