By Chris Knight
NASCAR Wire Service
BROOKLYN, Mich.-- Tony Stewart will sit out his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in a decision made by the three-time premier series champion himself following last Saturday night's tragedy with sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.
Ward Jr. was fatally injured when he was hit by a winged sprint car driven by Stewart at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. The next day, Stewart withdrew from the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International and was replaced by NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith.
Thursday afternoon Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Jeff Burton would drive the team’s entry in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET on ESPN). The team reiterated on Friday morning at MIS that no timetable has been set for Stewart’s return.
“The decision was Tony’s,” said Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing. “An emotional week for him. He’s grieving. Made the decision he’s not ready to get in the racecar and will take it week by week. Tony is surrounded right now by his closest friends and family.”
Burton said he received the call from SHR on Wednesday morning about potentially driving for Stewart, if he decided not to 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,” offered Burton. “Hopefully me being here in some kind of way can help. I don’t know how, but hopefully I can find a way to help a healing process start. I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody.
“Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for everyone. But there’s a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing that work really, really hard and deserve 100 percent effort from me and that’s what they’re going to get.”
Stewart-Haas Racing would not specify if Burton would drive for the team next weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway should Stewart decide (again) not to compete.
NASCAR implements new on-track incident procedure for competitors
In its continued efforts to evolve the safety of its sport, NASCAR announced Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway a new procedure for on-track incidents, effective immediately.
The rule, listed as Section 9-16, will be an addendum to the NASCAR rule book and will apply to all of its racing series.
The procedure states that during an event, if a racecar is involved in an on-track incident and / or is stopped on or near the racing surface and unable to continue to make forward progress, unless extenuating emergency conditions exist with the racecar (i.e. fire, smoke in cockpit, etc.), the driver should take the following steps:
· Shut off electrical power and, if driver is uninjured, lower window net
· Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official
· After being directed to exit the racecar, the driver should proceed to either the ambulance, other vehicle, or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official
· At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron
· At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach another moving vehicle
“We’re formalizing rules that have been there,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. “It’s reminders that take place during driver meetings with drivers about on-track incidents. We’re just formalizing this and it’s something that we worked on this week.”
Pemberton added the new rule was precipitated following the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy last Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.
“Through time you have to recognize when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder, something that may need to be addressed,” he said. “This is one of those times where we look outside our sport and we look at other things and we feel like it was time to address this.”
As with other behavioral infractions, NASCAR will handle each instance separately when assessing potential penalties.
Blaney to drive Wood Brothers Racing famed No. 21 In 2015
Ryan Blaney is all smiles this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. And as he should be.
Not only is the 20-year old the current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader for Brad Keselowski Racing, but he is also the new driver of the famed No. 21 Ford Fusion for Wood Brothers Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015.
Officially announced Thursday, Blaney will take the reins from current driver Trevor Bayne who will move to a full-time Cup ride at Roush Fenway Racing next season. Blaney, a Team Penske Racing development driver since 2012, will compete in at least 12 races driving the iconic No. 21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford Fusion.
“I am very excited to be able to race for the Wood Brothers next year,” said Blaney Friday morning. “They have been so great to me with the week and a half that I have been over there. The history of this team is very special and being able to drive for this team is special and a dream come true.”
The Wood Brothers Racing team will get more than just Blaney though. The Stuart, Virginia-based team also announced that it has formed a technical alliance with Team Penske.
“Right now we have an alliance with Roush Fenway and that includes engineering, cars and everything about it. It will be a similar situation with Team Penske,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing. “The difference will be that Team Penske has never done this before. This is new to them. That will be a work in progress to figure out how to do everything. It is going to be a similar situation.”
This weekend, Blaney is getting acquainted with his new ride by practicing and qualifying the No. 21 Ford Fusion for Bayne, who’s in Mid-Ohio competing in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN). Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner for Wood Brother Racing, will race Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 Sprint Cup event.
Blaney’s first Cup race under the Wood Brothers Racing banner will come in next February’s season-opening Daytona 500.