Kevin Harvick strongly defended close friend and team owner Tony Stewart following Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway.
Harvick chided the media for what he perceives to be an unfair portrayal of Stewart following his involvement in the death of Kevin Ward Jr. Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Stewart is the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which fields Harvick's No. 4 car in the Sprint Cup Series.
"It has been a difficult week," said Harvick after finishing runner-up. "I think the hardest part for me has been the way the whole media thing has shaken down. It's an absolute tragic accident that has happened on both sides of the fence. You have one young man who is dead. You've got a guy that we know and are part of an organization that is just getting a lot of just crazy press.
"You have just a lot of unknowledgeable people reporting on a situation that know absolutely nothing about racing." - Kevin Harvick
"I've known Tony Stewart for a long time. You look, you know, you see what happened. I still don't believe that he even knew that he ran into that car. I know for sure that Tony Stewart is not going to run over somebody that's on a race track. I don't think there's anybody in this garage that would. It would be hard to find somebody in the racing world that could point that car, just run somebody over."
The death of the 20-year-old Ward has generated national media coverage. An investigation is ongoing and the Ontario (N.Y.) County Sheriff's Department has stated there is no reason to believe Stewart had "criminal intent" when the wheel of his sprint car struck and killed Ward.
"You have just a lot of unknowledgeable people reporting on a situation that know absolutely nothing about racing," Harvick said. "It's just really unfortunate, the perception that has been given to (Stewart).
"I know he'll stay strong and fight and he'll get the right people and do all the right things. That's the part that's bothered me the most, is just the poor misrepresentation on the media side for him."
Harvick during practice for the Pure Michigan 400 (Robert Reiners -- Getty Images)
Since the tragedy Stewart has not spoken publicly, but he did release a statement the day after Ward's death. Harvick has not had any direct communication with Stewart. Friday, Jimmie Johnson said he tried texting Stewart but received no response.
Stewart sat out the previous two Sprint Cup races, with Regan Smith substituting at Watkins Glen and Jeff Burton at Michigan. After he temporarily exited the Pure Michigan 400 with mechanical troubles, Burton echoed Harvick's comments, saying this was "one of the hardest weeks" he's experienced.
More on Ward, Stewart
More on Ward, Stewart
"You have a lot of conversations about the ‘what if's' and all this, but at the end of the day these are real people that are human beings and have feelings," Burton said. "I think a lot of times we forget that. We talk about people like they are robots and they are not, they are human beings.
"Just listening to some of the misinformation and people speculating about stuff, I just thought it was a travesty in a lot of ways. Ultimately all that really weighed on me, knowing that we had two families, at least two families, just in agonizing pain and really not being able to do anything about it."
Unsure of Stewart's status for Michigan, SHR asked Burton Wednesday to stand by in case Stewart elected not to race. The team announced Burton would drive early Thursday night. No determination has been made when Stewart will return.
Harvick credited the resolve within SHR for not letting recent events affect the organization's performance.
"I think everybody has stepped up and did what they've had to do inside the shop," Harvick said. "There's a lot of strong people at our company. ... There's a lot of great sponsors that are there that are very supportive of everything we're doing. I think it's added more fire to everybody just to step up and keep everything headed in the right direction."