Tony Stewart remains in seclusion as he sits out another NASCAR race this weekend.
“Tony is surrounded right now by his closest friends and family,” Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. “We’re obviously in contact. His location is of a private nature right now.
“It’s been an emotional week for him. He’s grieving. Anytime someone is lost, especially at a race track, it’s tragic. It was a tragic accident, and he’s dealing with quite a bit of grief.”
Stewart will miss Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, the second race he has missed after the sprint car he was driving hit and killed Kevin Ward Jr. last Saturday at a dirt track in upstate New York.
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“The decision was Tony’s,” Frood said of Stewart missing the Michigan race. “(It’s) an emotional week for him. He’s grieving. He’s made the decision he’s not ready to get in a race car and will take it week by week. It will be up to Tony when he’s ready to get back in the car.”
Veteran driver Jeff Burton, who retired from full-time racing after the 2013 season, is filling in for Stewart at Michigan and qualified 27th for Sunday’s race.
“My role here is to hopefully provide a little stability, give that team a chance to have the most success they can have in a very difficult situation,” said Burton. “Hopefully I can find a way to help a healing process start. Obviously it’s an awkward situation for everybody. But there’s a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing that work really hard and deserve 100 percent from me and that’s what they’re going to get.”
Frood said a decision beyond this weekend hasn’t been made on when Stewart might return, or who would drive his No. 14 Chevrolet in his continued absence.
“Jeff will be the driver this weekend at Michigan; we have not discussed any other races,” Frood said. “We’ll talk to Tony. When he’s ready to get in the car, he will be in there and we’ll go from there.”
An investigation into Saturday’s crash continues in New York. The Ontario County sheriff said earlier this week no charges are pending against Stewart. Frood said the events of the past week are not affecting the overall stability of SHR and that the team’s sponsors have been supportive.
“They understand it’s an emotional time,” said Frood. “There’s much support for the family of the young man, and they care for Tony. We’ve had a great deal of support from our partners.”
Driver Jimmie Johnson said he has tried to reach Stewart but has been unsuccessful.
“It’s such a sad, sad set of circumstances; certainly a hot button for different sides and different reasons and different opinions,” said Johnson. “I think once Tony is able to talk, or does talk, I think a lot of us and many people out there will feel better hearing his side of the situation. I know what I believe happened. I think it was completely an accident. So, in time we’ll see; when Tony is able to talk and how things go from there.”