Tony Stewart won't race Sunday in Michigan

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart speaks with crew members during practice for the Daytona 500 qualifying at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, in this file photo taken Feb. 16, 2013. BRIAN BLANCO, REUTERS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Tony Stewart said Thursday he will not race Sunday in NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Michigan, to be held just over a week after the NASCAR champion struck and killed a 20-year-old driver on a dirt track.

Jeff Burton will drive Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway. Stewart's plans for the rest of the season have not been determined.

Friends and family packed into a high school stadium in upstate New York Thursday to pay tribute to Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed Saturday night at a dirt track in Canandaigua, New York.

On Saturday, Stewart was racing a day before the Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen, New York. After a bump from Stewart sent Ward's winged car spinning into the wall, the young driver climbed out and walked onto the track in his black firesuit, gesturing angrily. Stewart's car seemed to fishtail, and Ward was thrown through the air as his parents and fans watched in horror.

The accident touched off angry debates as video of the crash circulated online, with fans questioning whether Stewart, known for his hot temper, tried to send his own message by buzzing Ward, or whether Ward recklessly stepped onto a dark track clad in black.

No charges have been filed, but Ontario County Sheriff's deputies are still investigating.

Ward's father lashed out at Stewart on Wednesday, saying there was "no reason" for the crash.

"Tony Stewart was the best damn driver by far on the track that night. Why he had to go up as high as he did and hog my son? There's no reason for it," Kevin Ward Sr. told The Syracuse Post-Standard.

Stewart has not commented since he made a statement Sunday.

"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said in the statement.

At the younger Ward's funeral at South Lewis Senior High School in Turin, New York, mourners wept and laughed at favorite stories about the boy who began racing not long after he began walking. Ward lay in an open casket piled with orange flowers.

kevin-ward-funeral.jpg
The casket of race car driver Kevin Ward Jr. is taken from a hearse before being carried into South Lewis Central School before a funeral on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Turin, N.Y.
Mike Groll, AP

Ward, a 2012 South Lewis graduate, was buried in his nearby hometown of Port Leyden, 55 miles from Syracuse.

"He was an amazing sprint car driver and had a family like no other," cousin Amanda Ward said in a eulogy. "We used to tell him before every race, 'Drive it like you stole it.' He never let us down."

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