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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.

IMSA: Corvette, Paul Miller complete flawless weekends to win at VIR

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Corvette Racing and Paul Miller Racing dominated the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway all-GT weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and promptly culminated their weekends on top by controlling the two-hour, 40-minute race en route to class wins in GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.

Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen took the No. 3 Corvette C7.R to the GLTM class win, that pair’s first win of the year, while Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow brought it home for the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in GT Daytona for the team’s first WeatherTech Championship win and the first for the Lamborghini in the U.S.

Both cars controlled the race but Garcia and Sellers – past GT class sparring partners before Sellers moved into the GTD class this year – needed to restart strongly in a one-lap dash to the checkered flag following the race’s lone full-course caution.

It appeared as though the sister Corvette, the GTLM-points leading car of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, slipped on oil going into the roller coaster. Gavin limped the wounded No. 4 Corvette C7.R back to the pits following an impact that looked worse than it was, and while he emerged out of the car OK, it was a bitter blow for the car that had won the last two GTLM races.

Nonetheless, even though the accident occurred with just over six minutes remaining, IMSA and VIR did well to get the track cleaned and back to race conditions.

There was still drama after the green with contact occurring between the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR of Earl Bamber.  Fisichella’s No. 62 Ferrari was parked in Turn 1 and dropped to seventh at the finish.

Per IMSA Radio, a reported altercation took place after the race, with Fisichella reportedly slamming the side of the No. 912 Porsche once all cars were coming into the pit lane.

The No. 912 Porsche was actually third in the race, behind the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand.

The No. 4 Corvette fell to ninth in class, while championship sparring partners the No. 67 Ford of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe gained extra points by finishing fourth.

That tentatively sees Gavin and Milner clear of Westbrook and Briscoe by seven points (287-280) with two races remaining.

GTD was a bit of a more straightforward affair with Sellers and Snow dominating the race. Lamborghini was the only GTD manufacturer that hadn’t won, but that stat now ends following today’s result. Sellers hailed Snow’s performance, noting the talented youngster out of Utah did the bulk of the work in the race. Sellers had a minor scare with an off course excursion but otherwise there were no issues. The car led every session this weekend.

The three Audi R8 LMS cars were second through fourth on the road, with the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi of Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell on the podium for the first time this year in second, and the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi of John Potter and Andy Lally in third.

But following post-race technical inspection, Magnus’ podium was erased, as officials discovered a minimum ride height infraction. That promoted the second Stevenson Audi (No. 6 car of Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis) from fourth to third.

Porsche’s lone entry in the race ended last car on the class lead lap in fourth, the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas.

Change Racing’s No. 16 Lamborghini of Spencer Pumpelly and Corey Lewis had podium potential but lost out again after Pumpelly was hung out a lap too long on fuel and needing to crawl back to the pits, ending fifth. The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen ended sixth after an off-course excursion.

The points leaders in this class had a fraught day too; a puncture and an overboost penalty capped off a tough weekend for the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen in seventh place.

Balzan and Nielsen unofficially lead the surging Lally and Potter by just eight points (267-259). Positions third through sixth in class sit anywhere from 20 to 36 points back.

IMSA resumes at Circuit of The Americas on Sept. 17 with all four classes.

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ERS issue costs Grosjean, Haas possible points finish in Belgium

Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium.
Saturday 27 August 2016.

World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Photographic
ref: Digital Image _ONZ2206
© Haas F1 Team
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Romain Grosjean was left frustrated after an issue with his energy recovery system (ERS) during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix cost him a possible points finish.

Haas Formula 1 driver Grosjean started 11th at Spa, but made a superb start to run as high as fifth in the early stages.

However, the decision to pit just three laps before the race was red flagged combined with the ERS issue that cost him straight line speed dropped Grosjean outside of the points.

The Frenchman enjoyed a strong final stint, but was unable to finish any higher than 13th for the American team.

“Well, it was a very good start and a very good first lap. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any top speed in the beginning of the race,” Grosjean explained.

“Something was not going quite right. It took a lot of time to solve that. My last stint wasn’t bad. I made up a lot of time on everyone, but the damage had already been done.”

Grosjean believes he could have scored his first points since the Austrian Grand Prix at the beginning of July, with Haas struggling to replicate its early-season form.

“We had a shot at a good finish today,” Grosjean said.

“On the positive side, I’m much happier with the car than I was recently, so that’s at least great.

“It’s just a shame we lost an opportunity for a good result.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez recovered from a grid penalty to finish the race 12th, with the Mexican taking a number of positives from the weekend.

“It wasn’t the result we expected. We were fighting very hard to get into the top-10 and even though we didn’t manage to get there, I think we did well,” Gutierrez said.

“The balance of the car felt good and we had reasonable pace. This is one of the things we need to keep up for the coming events because it’s what’s going to keep us consistent and help us get the most out of the car.

“I feel very grateful for the team. They did a great job and had some great pit stops. We lost some time on the safety car before the red flag, but sometimes it goes that way.

“We finished P12, so I’m not completely satisfied, but we will keep pushing.”

Red Bull GRC: Speed makes it a three-peat, survives Atlantic City

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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In a crazy, chaotic, Round 8 of Red Bull Global Rallycross season 2016, Scott Speed secured his third straight win in the Supercar final at Bader Field in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and has taken over the points lead for the first time this season. He also won Rounds 6 and 7 at MCAS New River and Washington, D.C., respectively.

There were a lot of “situations” that presented themselves both in the final and in the run up to the final, before Speed broke through to grab the win in the No. 41 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle GRC.

Speed’s teammate Tanner Foust in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle had the lead after the first lap from Speed, Steve Arpin, Nelson Piquet Jr. in a repaired car and Patrik Sandell. Twelve cars were in the Supercar final with only Kevin Eriksson in the third Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic Coupe unable to advance.

The order was stable for the first four laps of the eight-lap final up front, while Joni Wiman (Honda), Red Bull GRC debutante Chris Atkinson in a third Subaru Rally Team USA entry and Atkinson’s teammate Bucky Lasek all pulled off.

Foust, who hadn’t won since Daytona round two in June, was poised to secure the win but sustained a right rear tire puncture in the final couple laps as the 1.102-mile circuit was littered with debris around the course.

He slipped back into Speed’s clutches and with just two to go, Speed made it by on the inside for the lead of the hairpin, the second-to-last corner on the track.

Foust hung on for dear life from there but lost two more spots, falling to fourth.

But the podium complexion changed when Arpin, in the No. 00 ENEOS USA Ford Fiesta ST for Chip Ganassi Rallycross, ran wide on the second-to-last straight and off course.

Sandell took his No. 18 Cuttwood Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport past both Foust and Arpin, which promoted him to second, and Deegan took his No. 38 NOS Energy Drink Ford for Ganassi up to third. Foust and Arpin, Speed’s two primary protagonists in the title battle, limped home in fourth and fifth with Sebastian Eriksson best of the Hondas in sixth.

“This track was one of the most technical we’ve been on,” Speed told NBC’s Kristen Kenney in victory lane. “I got caught out the third lap with my rear. So I was conservative trying to make it.

“It was just one of those tracks where you have to navigate grooves and potholes. I was happy to come away with the win. Glad Tanner could come home fourth… but I hoped he would have been joining me on the podium.”

Unofficially Speed, who also won his Semifinal, now leads the championship by nine points over Foust (409-400). Arpin is third, 52 back, with Sandell fourth on 57 back and Deegan fifth on 64 back.

Next up for Red Bull GRC is a trip to Seattle on Sept. 17 for the penultimate race weekend of the season.

Massa fades to P10 late on in Belgium, but ends points drought

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Felipe Massa saw his run of four Formula 1 races without a point come to an end in Belgium on Sunday as he crossed the line in 10th place for Williams.

Massa’s last top-10 finish came at the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, enduring a run of form that had seen him score as many points as Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein in the five races prior to the Belgian Grand Prix.

Massa capitalized on the dramatic start at Spa to rise into the top 10, and was running sixth after making his final pit stop.

However, the Brazilian struggled to manage his tires in the closing stages, causing him to fade to 10th place at the checkered flag.

“It was a very difficult race. Trying to look after the tires until the end and checking the tire pressures while we were racing was tough,” Massa said.

“It was difficult to stay out long enough on track. When the tires were there we were fighting for a great position.

“But when the tures went off we just couldn’t fight anymore.”

Massa’s teammate Valtteri Bottas only fared marginally better, crossing the line eighth for four points as Williams dropped to fifth place in the constructors’ championship.

“It was a disappointing day and a shame that we wasted the opportunity that we had at the beginning of the race,” Bottas said.

“We were in a great position after the start and when the safety car came in we should have pitted immediately. We then lost many positions.

“We tried to get the most out the race that we could after that, and I’m happy that we could at least get some points in the end, but overall it was disappointing.

“Looking ahead, we’ve got another race next week and obviously we need to learn from today. Hopefully we’ll be better in Monza.”