Through the first 81 laps of Sunday's race at Watkins Glen, Regan Smith's day in Tony Stewart's No. 14 was fairly uneventful. Sure, he had to dodge a big crash that led to a 90-minute red flag, but there was little drama. It's probably how Stewart-Haas Racing had hoped the day would go.
But with eight laps to go, Smith's day ended via a collision with Jimmie Johnson. Any hopes of a quiet top-20 were dashed.
Johnson got spun off of turn one following a restart. He was near the front of the field, so all of the drivers bunched up behind him had to take evasive action. Briefly, it looked like Smith could make it past Johnson without incident, but as he moved to the right to avoid the No. 48 in the middle of the track, Justin Allgaier had already occupied the space between the wall and Johnson. Smith's car bounced off Allgaier's and into Johnson's.
The damage was too much for his car to continue. Smith finished 37th.
After competing in Saturday's Nationwide race, Smith was back in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday morning. He told ESPN before the race that he got a call from Ryan Pemberton, his Nationwide Series crew chief that he may be needed and Smith headed to his JR Motorsports shop and flew to Watkins Glen with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
Smith was tabbed as the replacement driver for Stewart, who opted not to compete in Sunday's race after hitting and killing Kevin Ward in a sprint car race Saturday night in upstate New York. After the team initially indicated that Stewart would compete, Stewart-Haas competition director Greg Zipadelli announced Sunday morning that Stewart had chosen not to drive and Smith would take his place.
Not long after the race began, Stewart issued a statement about the incident.
"There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr." Stewart said. "It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
During the race, the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff's Department held a press conference updating the investigation surrounding the accident and said there was no current evidence of criminal intent.
“As we speak at this time, there is no evidence in hand or no facts that would support a criminal charge or support criminal intent on the part of anybody,” sheriff Philip C. Povero said Sunday afternoon. Povero also added that the investigation was ongoing and factors like lighting, track conditions and Ward's black fire suit were being taken into consideration.
Ward and Stewart were racing together in a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park when Stewart moved to take Ward's line away off turn two. After crashing, Ward immediately exited his vehicle to walk down the track and confront Stewart and Stewart's vehicle clipped him with the right-rear tire.
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