(Photo: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

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.

Josef Newgarden channels his inner ‘Ted Crasnick,’ fools almost all IndyCar drivers

"Ted Crasnick," aka Josef Newgarden, in action Thursday. (Photo courtesy ESPN)
(Photos courtesy ESPN)
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INDIANAPOLIS — Ted Crasnick stole the show during Thursday’s Indianapolis 500 media day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Who?

Well, Crasnick’s alter ego is IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden, who dressed up with heavy makeup, a huge fake nose and looked like something out of the 1950s — and then pretended to be a member of the media.

“I wanted to do this idea three years ago,” Newgarden said. “I wanted to first do it as a yellow shirt (track security), but logistically it would have been too difficult.”

Newgarden’s plan finally came to fruition when ESPN agreed to tag along with him during media day for a feature that will be aired Sunday on ABC’s pre-race show before the Indianapolis 500.

“ESPN and I decided together this would be a better idea to do it in the media crowd and I’d be part of the media.”

Newgarden was part of the second scheduled group of drivers that came through later in the session, allowing him to transform into “Ted” for the opening segment – and with no one being the wiser.

Well, almost no one.

Crasnick/Newgarden fooled everyone – with the exception of Will Power. Even one of Newgarden’s best buddies, Graham Rahal, fell for the ruse.

“Will Power was the only guy that knew it was me, and I was shocked he figured it out,” Newgarden said. “No one else knew. Oriol (Servia) didn’t know, Helio (Castroneves) didn’t know, Graham, I don’t think knew. Mikhail (Aleshin) was just awkward to talk to.”

Even Newgarden’s boss, Ed Carpenter, was completely in the dark.

“Ed didn’t know,” Newgarden said. “The one guy that probably should have known it was me didn’t know it was me.”

Newgarden’s alter ego posed as a “reporter” from several outlets, including HarveyWorld.com, Boca Raton Senior Society, ProstateHealth.com and RVWorld.com.

Josef Newgarden begins his transformation into "Ted Crasnick" Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Josef Newgarden midway through his transformation into “Ted Crasnick” Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy ESPN)

Two of “Crasnick’s” most memorable exchanges were with Oriol Servia and Helio Castroneves.

“Oreo, good to meet you. You’re named after a cookie, I understand,” Crasnick said. … “Oreo, I love that name, it’s so sweet.”

To his credit, Servia played it straight and answered all of Crasnick’s questions, even one that involved, uh, err, “relieving” himself in his race car during a race.

Now, Castroneves was a whole different story.

“Helio lost words about halfway through,” Newgarden said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen him at a loss for words.

“That was the funniest part. I was asking him about peeing in the car and he was so confused about what I was asking him that he just didn’t know what to say.”

Check out a few hits from social media showing “Crasnick” at work:

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Guess who showed up at Indy? New NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 26:  Mark Martin, driver of the #55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, stands in the garage arstands in the garage areaduring practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samuel Deeds 400 At The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS — Newly NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee-elect Mark Martin isn’t even entered in either race, but he’ll be doing the proverbial motorsports “double” on Sunday.

Martin will be in Indianapolis for the start of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. A few hours after the green flag drops on the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, he’ll be on a plane headed for Charlotte to take in the Coca-Cola 600 that evening.

Actually, there’s a bit more to all that. Martin felt he had such little chance to be chosen for the Hall that he left his native Arkansas earlier this week to attend the 500.

“It was a bucket list sorta thing,” he said.

But then came Wednesday’s announcement that he had been elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017 – while he was on the road headed to Indy, no less – and Martin’s travel plans suddenly got a lot more complicated.

He was in Indy on Thursday, attending Indianapolis 500 media day. He flies to Charlotte Friday afternoon, returns to Indy on Saturday, and then does the Indianapolis-Charlotte jaunt on Sunday.

“I was speechless, still not sure what to say, other than I’m surprised,” Martin said of his selection for the NASCAR Hall. “If I’d been voting, I’d have voted another way.

“But I’m humbled and honored and not only to be in this class because of the performance of the people in this class and the people, the persons they were. … I just feel really fortunate. It’s like icing on the cake, like the race you never won but always wanted to, and more.”

To further illustrate his total surprise at being chosen for the Hall, Martin quipped, “I did not expect it, or otherwise I wouldn’t have been in the motor home driving up here yesterday.

“I hadn’t been to (the Indy 500) in my lifetime, so now it appears I’m going to be doing the ‘double.’ I’m not driving, but I’m doing the ‘double’ anyway.”

Here’s a few posts from Martin’s Twitter account about his time at IMS on Thursday as well as his selection for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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Oh, Canada! James Hinchcliffe hopes to repay countrymen for support with Indy 500 win

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Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS — Polesitter James Hinchcliffe wants to obviously win Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 for himself and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

He also wants to win for his family – all 35 million of them.

Hinchcliffe understands very well the huge significance of what his being in the 500 means to everyone in his native Canada.

Since winning the pole, Hinchcliffe has been front-page news from Halifax to Vancouver. He also knows millions of his fellow Canadians will be watching the 500 on television and cheering for the guy who proudly wears the maple leaf.

“After last Sunday, the amount of support pouring out of home was very overwhelming,” Hinchcliffe said during Thursday’s Indy 500 Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The amount of messages I got that were ‘regardless of what happens Sunday (in the Indy 500), we’re all behind you,’ that’s so nice.”

Now Hinchcliffe hopes to repay the faith his countrymen have had in him throughout his racing career.

“Being the only full-time Canadian driver in the field. I want to do my country proud,” Hinchcliffe said. “I want to give Canadian motorsports fans something to cheer for.”

Hinchcliffe is one of a number of IndyCar drivers that have hailed from north of the border. Among those have been Paul Tracy (from Scarborough, Ontario), Scott Goodyear (Toronto), Alex Tagliani (Montreal) and Patrick Carpentier (LaSalle, Quebec). Tagliani, who starts 33rd, book-ends the field of 33 this year.

And let’s not forget Jacques Villeneuve (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec), the only Canadian to ever win the 500, having done so in 1995, ironically when Goodyear passed the pace car.

“The support I’ve felt from back home from Day 1 of my IndyCar career has just been incredible,” said Hinchcliffe, who hails from the outlying Toronto suburb of Oakville. “We’ve had some good years and bad years, and regardless of the results and in true Canadian fashion, they’re behind you win, lose or draw.

“It’s just incredible. I’ve gotten so lucky to come from that place. To know you have that support and they’re behind you in any situation is huge.”

While Hinchcliffe was a huge Villeneuve fan, the one Indy car driver that he has tried to emulate in his career is the late Greg Moore, who was killed in a crash at Fontana, California, in 1999.

Moore never got the chance to race at Indianapolis, primarily due to the split between CART and the Indy Racing League in 1996.

“Obviously, we lost him too soon,” Hinchcliffe said of Moore. “I was a huge (Jacques) Villeneuve fan. He was really the guy that got me into it (Indy car racing).

“And when he switched to F1, sure, I followed his F1 career very closely, but in IndyCar, his replacement was Greg Moore. And that’s the guy that really connected with me somehow, and not just how he drove.

“There were a lot of bad-fast racing drivers, but Greg was a really great human being. That was the guy that I looked at and thought, ‘Hey, if I ever get to do this for a living, that’s the guy I want to be like.”

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Indy 500 Thursday notes: Logos, lights, Lilly, lunches and more

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Photo: Dale Coyne Racing
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INDIANAPOLIS – The beauty of media day for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is that you get a lot of interviews done. The downside of media day is that you then have to transcribe those interviews.

Alas, even though on-track activity was limited to just Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice and qualifying, it’s still been a busy day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Quick notes are below:

  • 101st500logoThe logo for the 101st Indy 500 and the “race to renew” were unveiled. Much, of course, is being made about the 100th running of the race and as you’d expect, the powers-that-be are concerned with the retention plan for the 101st race, which will take place May 28, 2017. A full release from IMS is linked here, while the logo is posted to the right.
  • Indy Lights qualifying got canceled. Not from a lack of effort. Practice was shortened from three hours – 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. – to just 90 minutes from 9 to 10:30. Juan Piedrahita led the way for Team Pelfrey. Qualifying then got through the first eight drivers before an accident for Zachary Claman De Melo and then rain hit. Carlin’s Ed Jones will have the pole position, with the field set by points, over Santiago Urrutia and Kyle Kaiser. The race airs live at noon on Friday as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage, which begins at 11 a.m. ET.
  • Other lights announced. “Lights at the Brickyard” was announced late Wednesday, to tentatively run from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. Here’s that full release.
  • Lilly to Conor Daly’s car. Lilly Diabetes joins Conor Daly’s No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda as co-primary sponsor. From a team release: “Lilly Diabetes of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company (LLY) will serve as co-primary sponsor of the No. 18 ShirtsForAmerica.com/Lilly Diabetes Honda, driven by Conor Daly, in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. As part of the sponsorship, Daly’s No. 18 car will run a special patriotic paint scheme with a series of four stars, one colored in blue to recognize the one in four veterans who live with diabetes, which is two and a half times greater than the general population.”
  • Newgarden “wins” media day. My colleague Jerry Bonkowski have a boat load of interviews to get through that you’ll see on NBCSports.com throughout the coming days. But a quick hat tip first to the Indianapolis Star, who already has this post up on Josef Newgarden’s prank as an interviewer himself.
  • Pennzoil, Penske host lunch. Team Penske’s usual Thursday night media dinner shifted to being a lunch this afternoon to pay tribute to its partnership with Shell Pennzoil – Pennzoil adorns the No. 3 “Yelio Submarine” Chevrolet driven by Helio Castroneves – and to prepare for the 100th Indianapolis 500 race. Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya all spoke along with Roger Penske, Tim Cindric and a key Shell executive. Penske said IndyCar has “one of the best products” and is determined for his team to win his 17th Indianapolis 500 with any of its four drivers.
  • So does Townsend Bell with California Pizza Kitchen. Based on the pics below, we’re in for a doozy tomorrow as part of our Carb Day coverage.

  • Which speaking of that coverage… It runs from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on NBCSN and will feature Carb Day practice, the Indy Lights Freedom 100, and the 2016 Pit Stop Competition.

The Pit Stop Competition bracket is below:

PitStopComp16

More to come from Indy later today and tomorrow.