Stewart to be replaced by Smith at Watkins Glen
August 10, 2014, Stu Hothem, NASCAR.com
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Stewart-Haas Racing VP of Competition, Greg Zipadelli, announced Sunday morning that Tony Stewart will not race in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Watkins Glen International.
Stewart was involved in a sprint car racing incident on Saturday night that left driver Kevin Ward Jr. with fatal injuries at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a half-mile dirt track on the Ontario County Fairgrounds.
"We know that it's just an unbelievable tragedy," Zipadelli said. "Our hearts go out to obviously 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.
"So with that being said, we feel that as a group, Tony will not drive today. Regan Smith is on his way up."
Smith, who finished 17th in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 at The Glen, had returned home to the Charlotte area. The JR Motorsports Nationwide championship contender ran six Sprint Cup races last year. In four previous Cup starts at the Glen, he has a best finish of ninth in 2012.
"NASCAR has approved for him to get in the race car today," Zipadelli said. "They're going to do everything they can to help us expedite getting his seat, (getting) him comfortable. So that's what we've been working on this morning and trying to get executed. Get Regan here and obviously anything we can do for Tony and everybody else is just like I said, it's an emotional time right now."
After a hectic morning, Smith arrived at about 11:55 a.m. ET, flying up with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
"I was actually at home in North Carolina," Smith said. "I went back after the Nationwide race yesterday. Got up and then got a call from my crew chief Ryan Pemberton, said they may need some help up here today and went to the shop as soon as I knew that. So left the shop at probably 9:30. Fortunate enough that Mr. H. was still coming up here and (I) was able to hitch a ride up here with him and get up here on time. That was pretty much the events of the morning."
Prior taking his current role at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012, Zipadelli joined NASCAR's premier series in 1999 as a crew chief for a rookie Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing. Over 10 seasons together, Stewart and Zipadelli won 33 races and two series championships in 2002 and 2005. Zipadelli joined Stewart's organization after three seasons and a win with Joey Logano.
Zipadelli said Stewart sitting out of Sunday's race was a group decision, and he expressed his support for his driver, owner and friend.
"It was a few of us that were in there, just supporting him," Zipadelli said. "He's a brother to me. He's way more than a boss. He's going through a tough time. It's emotional for him. We as a group support him, feel like he's doing the right thing and we'll move on from this. I support Tony Stewart. I think I've shown that over the last 18 years."
With five races to go until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup starts, Stewart has yet to win and clinch a spot in NASCAR's playoffs. As the all-time win leader at Watkins Glen with five, Sunday's race appeared to be a good chance for him to go to Victory Lane. Zipadelli said that neither the Chase nor Stewart's success on the road course factored into Stewart's decision to sit out the event.
"…honestly that is the furthest thing from our minds right now," Zipadelli said. "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, evaluate and go through that and make decisions. Today is all about doing what we can today. To get through today and do it the best we can as a group and try to do it in the right way so we haven't even crossed the bridge yet."
By qualifying for the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, Stewart is still eligible to make the Chase if he returns to the No. 14 ride next week at Michigan International Speedway.