Tony Stewart will be absent from the #14 car again this weekend, after Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed that he has decided against returning to competition at Michigan International Speedway.
Stewart's decision to sit out a second race in succession follows his involvement in an accident last Saturday night that resulted in the death of racing driver Kevin Ward Jr. at a regional sprint car event at Cananadaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York.
Stewart's car struck the driver as Ward walked onto the race track to remonstrate with the Cup star following an collision between the pair. Stewart subsequently pulled out of last week's Cup race at Watkins Glen, where he was replaced at short notice by Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith.
This weekend his place will be taken by veteran Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton. Burton retired from full-time racing last year after 21 career victories in 693 starts. He has raced twice this year for Michael Waltrip Racing, finishing 17th at Las Vegas and 20th at New Hampshire.
The announcement covers this weekend only, and no longer-term plans have yet been put in place for when Stewart may return to racing. By sitting out this weekend's Cup race, Stewart is technically no longer eligible for the 2014 Chase although NASCAR may grant him a waiver given the exceptional circumstances involved.
Local authorities continue to investigate the circumstances of Ward's death but have emphasised that no criminal charges are pending against Stewart or anyone else involved. The 20-year-old was laid to rest on Thursday in his nearby hometown of Port Leyden, 55 miles from Syracuse, following a memorial service at South Lewis Senior High School.
NASCAR is due to announce new rules on Friday about drivers leaving their cars following a wreck in light of Ward's tragic death.
Truex to miss Michigan qualifying and practice
Martin Truex Jr. will also be absent from Michigan on Friday, although the Furniture Row Racing driver intends to compete in the race itself on Sunday.
Truex's decision follows the announcement that his long-term partner Sherry Pollex will be undergoing a surgical procedure for ovarian cancer. Matt Crafton will take over the #78 for practice and qualifying; Truex will still be required to start the race from the back of the grid because of the change of driver.
"Everyone at Furniture Row Racing extends their thoughts and prayers to Sherry during her treatment and recovery period," said Joe Garone, Furniture Row Racing General Manager. "She is a devoted supporter of our race team and we can't wait for her return to the track."
Wood Brothers form alliance with Penske to run Blaney
The Wood Brothers Sprint Cup team will continue to run a partial season in 2015, with Ryan Blaney taking over the race seat of the #21 car after Trevor Bayne moves to Roush Fenway Racing.
Blaney is scheduled to make his official début for Wood Brothers Racing in the 2015 Daytona 500. He will race for the team in events at Daytona, Las Vegas, Texas, Talladega, Charlotte, Michigan and Indianapolis and at least five others, depending on sponsorship.
The team also announced that it was entering into a new technical alliance with Team Penske.
“Wood Brothers Racing is excited to align with Roger Penske and his team and we couldn't be more pleased to put Ryan Blaney in the #21 Ford Fusion,” said Eddie and Len Wood, co-owners of Wood Brothers Racing, in a joint statement. “Ryan is a third-generation racer and one of the best young drivers out there. He has been a winner in many different kinds of cars since he started racing at a very young age and we fully expect that to continue while he is with us.”
More sponsorship deals announced
Confectionery giant Mars has confirmed a multi-year extension to its existing sponsorship of the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing car driven by Kyle Busch with its M&M's brand.
"We're thrilled to extend our partnerships and look forward to celebrating more wins both on and off the track," said William Clements, Vice President Sponsorships and Sports Marketing at Mars Chocolate North America. The deal also includes Mars being designated at the official chocolate of NASCAR.
"Being the M&M's driver and representing Mars on and off the track has been one of the proudest accomplishments in my racing career," said Busch. "This is great news for everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and our fans, but also shows how dedicated Mars is to our sport. With this news, any trip to Victory Lane will be even sweeter."
The mid-week announcement puts an end to speculation that Mars was considering switching its support to a potential new fourth car in the JGR line-up driven by Carl Edwards. Edwards announced his exit from Roush Fenway last month but has yet to confirm his plans for 2015.
JGR sent out a press advisory on Thursday alerting the media to an announcement to come on Tuesday that "will have impact across four NASCAR racing series."
Meanwhile Hendrick Motorsport confirmed that office products conglomerate 3M will be coming on board as a primary sponsor for Jeff Gordon's race team in 2015. Previously 3M had backed Greg Biffle's #16 Roush Fenway team.
"We're thankful for the ten-year relationship we've enjoyed with 3M that's included some of Roush Fenway's most memorable victories," Roush Fenway President Steve Newmark said on Twitter. "We have some exciting '15 partnership announcements for the #16 coming in the next few weeks and look forward to sharing soon."
Harvick crew chief penalised after Watkins Glen
Kevin Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers has been fined $25,000 after bean bags used as a weight balance during technical inspection were accidentally left in the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for the start of the race. The bean bags became loose during the first stint of the road course event and Harvick needed to make an unscheduled pit stop to have them removed.
Under NASCAR rules, any unapproved weight or weight affixed improperly to the car is a violation and earns the team a P3-level penalty.
Josh Wise's #98 Phil Parsons Racing team was also issued a warning for violating the rule pertaining to adding or removing fuel to or from the car in the garage area, which must be done when the car is outside the garage structure.