NASCAR: Burton steps in, Stewart's future unknown
Tony Stewart's plans for the remainder of NASCAR schedule are to be determined, but veteran Jeff Burton is subbing for his good friend Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Thursday that Stewart would miss the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. He also skipped last weekend's race at Watkins Glen in the wake of the death of Kevin Ward, Jr., in a sprint car accident Saturday in Canandaigua, N.Y.
"(SHR's) Greg (Zipadelli) reached out to me Wednesday morning," said Burton, who has 21 career victories. "It was just in case Tony decides. He gets up earlier than I do, by the way."
Burton agreed to one race in Stewart's No. 14 car, and any additional plans are up in the air according to Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood.
"Jeff will be the driver this weekend at Michigan," Frood said. "We have not discussed any other races. We'll talk to Tony, and when he's ready to get in the car, he'll be in there."
Frood said the Chase is of the lowest priority -- other than getting Danica Patrick in the playoff.
"Right now the focus is getting Tony in a better place than he is right now," Frood said.
Frood said Stewart has had an emotional week and is grieving.
"Anytime someone is lost, especially at a race track, it's tragic. He's dealing with quite a bit of grief," Frood said.
The incident has been a popular topic in and outside of the motorsports community, with speculation around what Stewart did and didn't see. SHR said Friday morning that "all of the appropriate parties" would be heard from when it becomes appropriate.
"We certainly understand the media has a job to do. While there may be some irresponsible reporting, right now the focus should be immediately on the family," said Frood.
Burton, 47, is racing for only the third time this season. He finished 17th at Las Vegas, 20th in New Hampshire, and spent most of the season in the broadcast booth for NBC.
The timing was right for Burton. He started and finished in the top 10 in both Michigan races last year, including eighth in his Richard Childress Chevrolet on Aug. 18, 2013.
Earlier Friday, NASCAR announced a rules change prohibiting drivers from exiting vehicles on the track unless extenuating circumstances -- such as smoke, fire, threat of bodily harm -- exist.
"NASCAR has been unbelievable in regards to safety," Burton said. "I support the decision if it feels like it's what they need to do. I'm proud that they want safety to be at the forefront."