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Ward remembered at funeral: NASCAR’s Tony Stewart will not race this weekend at Michigan

USA Today Sports photo Family and friends release balloons in memory of Kevin Ward Jr. at South Lewis High School following Ward’s funeral on Thursday in Turin, NY.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted Kevin Ward’s family to know they’re not alone. The NASCAR star sent flowers to Ward’s family as they prepared to say goodbye to the 20-year-old racer who died after being struck by Tony Stewart’s car during a race on Saturday night.

Orange and white flowers draped Ward’s casket as mourners flocked to upstate New York for his funeral on Thursday. Mourners also were dressed in orange and white, Ward’s racing colors.

Ward was remembered as a happy-go-lucky kid around Boonville, N.Y. Townspeople said he was always polite and respectful.

Mourners heard stories about Ward’s talent on the racetrack. He had a bright future ahead, family and friends told the grieving audience. They did not want Ward to be remembered as an accident victim, but as a young man who embraced life and lived it to its fullest.

On Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, Ward was killed when he tried to confront Stewart on the track after Stewart sent Ward’s winged car into the wall. Ward was fatally struck by the right rear tire of Stewart’s car.

As of Thursday, Stewart had remained silent and no charges had been filed.

Stewart won’t                race this weekend

Tony Stewart announced Thursday that he will not race this weekend, skipping a second straight Sprint Cup race since his car struck and killed a driver on a dirt track in upstate New York.

Jeff Burton will drive Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Stewart sat out last Sunday NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, a day after he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race in Canandaigua, N.Y.

Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators don’t have any evidence at this point to support criminal intent. The investigation could last another two weeks.

According to a team press release, the driver change only pertains to the Michigan race. Stewart’s plans for the upcoming Sprint Cup Series schedule have yet to be determined.

Burton, a 21-time winner in the sport’s premier series, has made only two starts this season in a part-time role for Michael Waltrip Racing. He finished 17th at Las Vegas in March and 20th at New Hampshire in July as he transitions to the broadcast booth next season for NBC.

Stewart, 43, decided to sit out last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen, New York, but only after facing a storm of criticism on social media.