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Tony Stewart pulls out of race after fatal crash

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In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department’s investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was “fully cooperative” and appeared “very upset” over what had happened. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department’s investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was “fully cooperative” and appeared “very upset” over what had happened. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Greg Zipadelli, competition director of Stewart-Haas Racing, addresses members of the media before a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Zipadelli said Tony Stewart would not drive Sunday after he struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Regan Smith, center, climbs into the race car of Tony Stewart before a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Greg Zipadelli, competition director of Stewart-Haas Racing, addresses members of the media before a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Zipadelli said Tony Stewart would not drive Sunday after he struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Tony Stewart (14) drives through the s-turns during a qualifying session for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York on Saturday night. Stewart was scheduled to race in in NASCAR’s event Sunday at Watkins Glen. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Tony Stewart pulled out of the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen Sunday, 12 hours after the three-time champion struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the darkened dirt track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York.

Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said at a news conference that Stewart “feels strongly” about not competing Sunday following the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. The decision was an about-face for the organization, which initially said Stewart would be behind the wheel of his No. 14 Chevrolet when the green flag waved.

“We gave Tony some time to sleep on it. He feels strongly this is the right thing to do,” Zipadelli said. “All you can do is what you feel is right, and we feel this is right. We get through today and do it the best we can as a group.

In a statement, Stewart said the crash has been “emotional” for all involved.

“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” he said.

The crash happened Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a dirt track and an extracurricular race for a driver of Stewart’s stature. Stewart frequently races in the events as a hobby to the side of the big-money NASCAR races.

Ward, a 20-year-old driver, had crashed following a bump with Stewart one lap earlier. Ward and Stewart were racing side-by-side for position as they exited a turn. Ward was on the outside when Stewart, on the bottom, seemed to slide toward Ward’s car and crowd him toward the wall. The rear tire of Stewart’s car appeared to clip the front tire of Ward’s car, and Ward spun into the fence.

Video showed Ward walking from his crashed car onto the racing surface as cars circled by, and, as he gestured at Stewart’s passing car, he was struck. Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to kick out from the rear and hit him.

Authorities questioned Stewart and said he was “visibly shaken” and cooperative. On Sunday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that criminal charges have not been ruled out, but that investigators also don’t have any evidence at this point in the investigation to support criminal intent. He renewed a plea for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash.

“The next thing I could see, I didn’t see (the other driver) anymore,” witness Michael Messerly said. “It just seemed like he was suddenly gone.”

Getting out of a wrecked car to confront another driver is common in almost every series. Wrecked race cars can rarely be driven off the track, and the driver has to get out to find his way

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