Stewart-Haas Racing has announced that Tony Stewart will not return to race duty this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, and that his place in the #14 car will once again be taken by Jeff Burton.
Burton also took over from Stewart last weekend at Michigan, after Stewart pulled out in the wake of the fatal accident at a regional sprint car race at Cananadaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York in which 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. died after being hit by Stewart's vehicle.
Burton, a winner of 21 Cup races including a 2008 victory at Bristol, ended his full-time race career at the end of 2013 but raced twice earlier in the year for Michael Waltrip Racing before getting the call-up take over Stewart's #14 Chevrolet entry.
The team added that the driver change pertains only to Bristol and that Stewart's plans for upcoming Sprint Cup races have yet to be determined. Stewart has also cancelled other personal appearances he had been scheduled to make at Bristol this week, and hasn't been seen in public since the accident on August 9.
"Racing is a community," said Burton when asked at Michigan about the feeling within the team in the last week. "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."
Burton said that he felt the criticism about Stewart in the press had been unfounded and unwarranted, and had been based on some incidents of hot-headedness on Stewart's part in the past.
"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 jump to conclusions.
"Just listening to some of the misinformation and people speculating about stuff, I just thought it was a travesty in a lot of ways," Burton explained. "Ultimately all that really weighed on me, knowing that we had two families, at least two families just in agonising pain and really not being able to do anything about it.
"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," he pointed out. "We talk about people like they are robots and they are not - they are human beings.
"Everybody in this garage knows Tony. 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," he added. "That is how Tony is."
There has certainly been considerable support and sympathy for Stewart in the NASCAR paddock since the accident, including from Cup rookie Kyle Larson who like Stewart has been a keen participant in extracurricular sprint car races alongside his NASCAR appearances.
"Tony is a tough competitor so he races hard in a stock car, a sprint car and a midget, street car whatever," said Larson, who took over the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing car from Juan Pablo Montoya at the start of 2014. "Before I got to NASCAR, racing with Tony Stewart was awesome. You would see his trailer pull in the track and you would get more amped up and try a little bit harder.
"He does a lot for the sport," Larson added. "When he goes to sprint car races it's his place to get away and relax a little bit. Like I said, I always enjoyed when he would come to the race track and still enjoyed seeing him whenever he would venture out and go back."
Jimmie Johnson said at the weekend that he hadn't yet been able to talk directly with Stewart since the tragic events at Cananadaigua.
"I haven't been able to get in contact with him. I've certainly tried. I have not heard back," said Johnson. "I haven't spoken to him. I just feel for him and for Gene Haas, the team, the uncertainty that lies there, certainly from the Tony standpoint.
"I would imagine there is still a lot going on and I would assume he's being advised to keep comments to a minimum right now with all the legal things that are pending," he suggested. "I think once Tony is able to talk, or does talk, I think a lot of us and many people out there will feel better hearing his side of the situation.
"[It's] certainly a hot button for different sides and different reasons and different opinions," he added. "I think it was completely an accident. In time we'll see - when Tony is able to talk and how things go from there.
"As much as I'm concerned for Tony and his well-being, [it's] the pain and sorrow that the Ward family and friends are going through. It's such a sad, sad set of circumstances."