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Full transcript of Mike Helton press conference at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR president Mike Helton spoke with the media an hour after Tony Stewart read his self-prepared statement Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Helton was asked about the procedures and stipulations Stewart had to go through to be able to race again, as well as Stewart’s eligibility to still make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Here is the full transcript of Helton’s comments and answers to questions from the media:

 

THE MODERATOR:  Welcome to NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  As you know, Tony Stewart will be returning to NASCAR competition today, will be participating in fact in practice starting within the half hour at 2:30 and then will participate in qualifying later this evening.

For this reason we’ve asked our president, Mike Helton, to address the media today.

MIKE HELTON:  Thank you.

I refer back to Steve O’Donnell’s release yesterday or statement on behalf of NASCAR that, as you know very clearly by now, we have cleared Tony to return as part of the normal process when a driver has been absent from participating.

It also mentioned in that release that we’ve been in close contact for the past several weeks with Stewart-Haas Racing monitoring and participating in conversations.  As you can imagine, once Tony was cleared to return and he decided to come back, the question goes to his possible eligibility in the Chase.

Before I get into that, I do want to join everybody else in the garage area in welcoming Tony back.  He’s been a great asset to NASCAR.  He’s been a great champion, a great participant in our sport, so it’s nice to have him back.

Back to the Chase part for just a second.  I’ll remind everybody back earlier this year when we announced the format for the ’14 Chase, that announcement included some responsibility about the routine participation in the season in order to be eligible in the Chase.

Along with that importance of routine participation also came the asterisk, so to speak, about accepting rare incidents.  This has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to our sport.  As the league, it’s our responsibility to try to make decisions that are correct and right.  Sometimes we evaluate circumstances that are given us and then make those decisions as correctly as we can.

After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence, we’ve come to the conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it.

So with that we can open up the floor for a few questions.

 

Mike, yesterday in the release Steve O’Donnell said specifically there were multiple clearances that Tony had to receive.  What was the nature of those?

MIKE HELTON:  As typical, our process calls for us to rely on third party experts to assure us that a NASCAR driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return.  All those forms of processes were met and we cleared him based on those third party inputs from experts.

 

Mike, as you know, when this incident first took place, there was a lot of confusion in the mainstream media over the incident, whether it involved NASCAR, you as the sanctioning body.  There’s a misconception that NASCAR sanctions a lot of things that it actually doesn’t.  A lot of people spent a lot of time trying to clear up that misconception.  By granting a waiver to Tony Stewart for something that originated by competing in another series, are you worried at all that that line may blur again between competition of what you’re in control of and what someone elects to do on their own time?

MIKE HELTON:  I don’t think so.  I think our scope of responsibility is to our membership, our events.  Sometimes incidents occur outside of the sanctioned event, a NASCAR sanctioned event, that we have to consider in the participation of members.  So I don’t think so.

 

Tony Stewart was just in here and read a statement.  Is obviously still stricken with grief.  How has NASCAR determined he’s ready to get back in the car?  Has anybody from the organization talked with him to make sure he is mentally ready or capable to be behind the wheel?

MIKE HELTON:  Throughout this period of time, as Steve mentioned in his statement yesterday, NASCAR has been in constant contact with Stewart-Haas Racing.  But when it comes to the assurances that a driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return, we’re going to rely on outside experts.

 

Mike, when you talk about outside experts, to clarify, in your process of evaluation, did you get psychological or psychiatric reports as part of your evaluation of Tony’s eligibility to return?

MIKE HELTON:  We received the ones that we felt were relevant under the circumstances.

 

These were from psychological professionals?  How can we categorize those?

MIKE HELTON:  The ones that were relevant to these circumstances.

 

The fact that the investigation into the tragedy is still ongoing, did you weigh that at all in your decision?  If for some reason Tony does actually face charges in this, would he be subject to any discipline?

MIKE HELTON:  We made our decisions based on the circumstances we’ve got currently.  And I think most everyone in this room understands at NASCAR, our effort, our scope of responsibility and authority is limited to the NASCAR community.

We take the current circumstances that we are dealt with and make what we hope to be the best absolute conclusion.  That’s what we’re talking about today, is the current set of circumstances and our reaction to them.

 

Mike, can you describe as much as possible how the actual process worked to get to this point where you’re able to make this announcement today.

MIKE HELTON:  Well, I think we have experience.  You’re well aware of our policies and procedures on reinstatement when someone is absent, for whatever reason it may be.  So these would apply to similar situations, except for the fact that this was very unique.

The reinstatement process doesn’t begin until the competitor is ready to come back.  That’s what we’ve been through this week.

 

Given these unique circumstances, has there been thought to adding a 17th position to the Chase?  Have you had any car owners suggest that?

MIKE HELTON:  We haven’t had anyone suggest it, and that’s not on the table right now.  It’s simply if Tony were able to earn a spot in the Chase, and our decision is currently yes.

 

Mike, you said you went through the whole process, the third party individuals with whom you spoke made it clear Tony could be reinstated.  How hard was the decision?  Was the evidence or information overwhelmingly easy or not?

MIKE HELTON:  I don’t know if we could categorize the ease of it.  This was a very challenging, a very unique situation.  I think the earlier press conference with Tony’s statement that he read was evidence of how overwhelming these set of circumstances have been.

I think particularly those of us that follow this sport every weekend know that driver’s healing processes are unique, but they are racecar drivers, and a lot of times getting back in a racecar is something they shoot to do as quickly as they can.

So once Tony decided to come back, we then had to go through the policies and the procedures and the steps that we’ve historically built over time to make the absolute most correct decision we could make under the circumstances we were handed.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody.  Appreciate your time.

Russian Grand Prix extended through 2025

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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The Russian Grand Prix at Sochi will continue to feature on future Formula 1 calendars, with event organizers confirming a long-term extension.

With the race already secure through 2020 following a past deal between then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and then-F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, that end date has now been extended by five years through to 2025, according to Russia’s deputy prime minister Dimitry Kozak.

“We held negotiations and the contract for holding FIA Formula One racing Grand Prix in Russia has been extended till 2025,” Kozak told Russian news outlet TASS.

Sochi first appeared on the F1 calendar in 2014 and will hold its fourth race this year from April 28 to 30.

Hamilton fastest midway through day two of F1 testing

during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 28, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest time and the most laps through Tuesday’s morning session of preseason testing.

Hamilton’s lap of 1 minute, 20.983 seconds was 0.782 seconds faster than the leading time he set during the opening day of Formula One testing at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

As expected from the new regulations intended to boost speeds, Hamilton’s pace through two days is more than a second faster than the top time set on the same track through eight days of preseason testing in 2016.

The three-time world champion will hand over the wheel of the Mercedes to new teammate Valtteri Bottas for the afternoon session.

Just like Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel from Day 1, Kimi Raikkonen was the nearest challenger to Hamilton’s top speed, albeit almost two seconds slower.

Hamilton and Raikkonen also got in the most laps with 66 and 47, respectively, as Mercedes or Ferrari have yet to report any mechanical problems so far.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen could only muster the fifth fastest time.

While world champion Mercedes and Ferrari continue to outperform rival Red Bull, a pair of the more modest teams struggled to get their cars rolling.

Antonio Giovinazzi, who has substituted for Pascal Wehrlein while he recovers from a back injury, spent most of the morning waiting for Sauber to replace his car’s engine. Jolyon Palmer’s Renault, meanwhile, only emerged from the garage in the final minutes of the four-hour morning session.

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.

Sauber confirms Tatiana Calderon as development driver

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Photo: Sauber F1 Team
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Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon, who’s worked to further her racing career since moving from to Europe prior to 2012, has been named a development driver for Sauber F1 Team.

Calderon turns 24 in March. Her best result thus far is second in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 and she’s also raced in GP3 and Formula 3 over the last five years. Her results haven’t necessarily matched her ability level, as she’s shown some promise enough to be scouted out by Sauber for this F1 role.

With Sauber, she’ll be heavily involved in simulator work and also attend some Grands Prix on site, but there’s been no timetable yet for her on-track debut.

“I am extremely happy to join the Sauber F1 Team as a development driver,” Calderon said. “I want to thank Monisha Kaltenborn and the whole team for giving me this opportunity, and also Escuderia Telmex for their support. I am grateful to be working with such an established Formula 1 team and to benefit from its long experience. I look forward to working with the team and learning as much as I can. It is a step closer to my dream – one day competing in Formula 1!”

Team principal Kaltenborn added, “We are very pleased to welcome Tatiana onboard to the Sauber family. We have the opportunities and facilities to provide Tatiana a professional platform on which she can further develop her knowledge and skills in racing. I am convinced that we can provide her lots of in-depth motorsport know-how for her future career in racing.”

Calderon’s been confirmed for her race program in GP3 this year with the DAMS team, alongside fellow F1 development driver, American Santino Ferrucci of Haas, and 19-year-old Bruno Baptista.

She’s not the first female driver Sauber has had – Simona de Silvestro was on board for a similar development plan three years ago – but it didn’t end well, so here’s hoping the F1 future is brighter for Calderon.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”