Early news from Bristol Motor Speedway had indications that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart might be racing this weekend. Stewart's name appeared on the entry list according to the NASCAR.com fan website.
Stewart has missed the last two races following the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. during an on track incident in which Stewart was involved.
Word has now come from Stewart-Hass Racing that veteran driver Jeff Burton will jump in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS this weekend in Tennessee.
Burton, a winner of 21 Sprint Cup races, will sit in for Stewart for the second straight week. It’s a good choice as Burton has 40 Sprint Cup starts at Bristol which is also nick-named “Thunder Valley.” He was also the winner of the 2008 Food City 500. Last weekend Burton drove as a substitute for Stewart at Michigan International Speedway.
As of now Stewart has missed two races and Bristol will make three. No one can blame him for sitting out races following the tragic events in which Ward died. The young driver, twenty, exited his dirt track sprint car which was against the wall following a wreck. He was struck and killed by the car driven by Stewart as he walked into the path of oncoming cars in an apparent effort to signal to Stewart his displeasure for the wreck.
As with the weeks prior the official Stewart-Hass messages is that driver changes are for the weekend events only on a one time basis. Stewart’s plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined. According to Brett Frood, Stewart-Hass Racing executive Vice President, the time table for Stewart to return to racing is in Stewart’s hands.
"He’s dealing with quite a bit of grief," Frood said this past weekend while commenting on the situation with reporters at MIS.
About Two Families
Drivers and people in the industry have plenty of respect for Jeff Burton and it was no different when he started talking about the topic of when Stewart will return. Burton summed things up in a perspective that takes the focus away from points and fantasy racing.
According to Burton the real focus on the entire incident should be on the Ward family, their loss of a son, how it affects everyone including Stewart. Burton says that all of the focus on returning as a driver removes too much of the humanity from the two families involved.
"These are people that we are talking about," Burton said. "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, and 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.”
Burton spoke at length about how the entire situation has been felt by the racing community. Burton feels that when Tony gets back into a car is not that important when you take everything into consideration. He also made note of how some of the media have missed the boat on the real Tony Stewart saying he's more than the driver that threw a helmet.
"Racing is a community," Burton said. "I don't know the Ward family at all, but I know that they raced, and that means that I share something in common with them. The racing community cares about each other even if they don't know you they still care about you.
"I think that is what we saw this week. Of course everybody in this garage knows Tony (Stewart). Tony doesn't beat his chest and talk about the things he does for people. We know it, we see it, but nobody else does. (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) was like that; Earnhardt didn't want anybody to know the things he did for people. That is how Tony is and ... a lot of people, they only know Tony because he threw a helmet. They only know Tony because he got mad. Well, hell, I get mad, too. I just hate people jumping to conclusions."