Full transcript of today’s Tony Stewart press conference

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The following is a full transcript of today’s press conference at Atlanta Motor Speedway involving Tony Stewart and Stewart Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood.

Stewart is returning to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition this weekend at Atlanta, marking his first race since his involvement in a fatal sprint car accident on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

After reading from a prepared statement, Stewart left to prepare for Sprint Cup practice this afternoon. Frood then took questions from the assembled media.

THE MODERATOR: Good morning. I’m director of communication for Stewart-Haas Racing. Up here is Tony Stewart, driver/owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, and Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing.

Tony has prepared some remarks. We’ll let him read those.

TONY STEWART: Thanks.

This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with both professionally and personally. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.

With that being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward’s family and friends are experiencing is something that I can’t possibly imagine.

I want Kevin’s father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I’m thinking about them and praying for them.

The racing community is a large family, as you guys know. Everyone’s saddened with this tragedy.

I want to thank all my friends and family for their support through this tough emotional time, and the support from the NASCAR community, my partners, all of our employees, it’s been overwhelming.

I’ve taken the last couple weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family, and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted.

I miss my team, my teammates. I miss being back in the racecar. I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.

I also understand that all of you have many questions and want a lot of answers, however I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time. Emotionally I’m not sure if I could answer them anyway.

We’re here to race this weekend, and I appreciate your respect. There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Tony.

Again, Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, will be available to take a handful of questions.

Q. Brett, NASCAR issued a statement yesterday that Tony had received all necessary clearances to race. What was the process of going through clearances? What approvals did he need?

BRETT FROOD: Well, as you all know, when a driver’s out of the car, there is that process. I’m not going to get into the medical side of it, but I will say we’ve been in close contact with them throughout the process, have gotten from them what he needed to get back in the car right now.

Q. The investigation as we understand is still open. Was there any thought to not having Tony race until it was closed? Why now?

BRETT FROOD: Well, I think for Tony, it’s all about this healing process. That’s part of why he’s in the car.

Besides his mom, his dad, his sister, his niece and nephew, his family is here, it’s at this racetrack. It’s part of the healing process of being with his family that he’s been with since 1999, knowing that these people are going to help him get through this. I think that’s one side of it.

The other side of it is he’s a racer. We have 270 employees. I think him putting a helmet on will help him cope with this situation.

Q. Brett, respecting the process, the investigation, knowing there’s things you can’t comment on, are you able to say whether you know whether Tony has a clear picture in his own mind of what happened that second or two that night?

BRETT FROOD: I am not going to comment on the incident itself. It was a tragic accident. Right now the focus is to be on Tony and the car this weekend and how he’s going to get through this.

Q. The fact that Tony is racing this weekend, should we read anything into that about what you know about the investigation and where it’s at in the process?

BRETT FROOD: No. I mean, we’ve really been respecting the process, as Tony said, and the investigation. Him being in the racecar right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, what his next step is in coping with this.

There’s been a great deal of empathy and sympathy for that family and what they’re going through. For Tony, it’s just been extremely emotional. This is what is going to help him.

Q. Can you talk about where Tony is at emotionally right now to step into the car? Was it 100% his choice not to race the last couple of weeks, without the involvement of the sanctioning body that we will hear from next?

BRETT FROOD: I’ll address the latter first.

Yes, the decision to be in the car is 100% Tony’s.

Q. Please define his emotional stage at this point. A very fragile Tony Stewart at this point.

BRETT FROOD: You just saw Tony. It’s been a difficult two weeks. But Tony is ready to be in the racecar. He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.

Q. Brett, you’ve worked for Tony for a long time. You’ve seen him in ways we have not. How would you characterize his preparation for this and what you think he’ll experience as he gets back in the car?

BRETT FROOD: I think it’s going to be very overwhelming being in that garage today. He’s going to feel an awful lot of support. As I just mentioned, this is his family. It’s the crew members, it’s the officials, it’s the drivers. It’s his family that he’s been with since 1999. This is going to be part of that process for him. I believe it’s going to be an overwhelming process, this weekend.

That being said, Tony Stewart is a racecar driver. He’s been a racecar driver for the past 35 years. When he puts that helmet on in practice, I’m quite convinced he’ll be ready to race the car, he’ll be able to separate the two.

Q. Brett, this obviously is a tremendous tragedy. Obviously in the sport of racing, these guys learn to deal with that part of the sport. Why do you think this has hit Tony so hard?

BRETT FROOD: Because he was involved in an accident and a young man died. I can’t imagine what he’s going through. I can’t imagine what the kid’s parents are going through.

It’s something, as Tony said, that he hopes no one in this room or certainly anywhere will ever have to go through. He was involved in a tragic accident.

Q. I noticed Tony mentioned Kevin Ward’s family members by name. Has he reached out to them personally at all?

BRETT FROOD: Tony has sent the family flowers and a card around the services. Besides that he’s been very respectful of them and their time to grieve.

I do know that it will be very important, it’s important for Tony, to spend time with the family. I do believe that will happen in the appropriate time.

Q. Obviously it’s an emotional time. Internally how do you deal with it as an organization, the prep work? Let’s face it, it’s not an ordinary weekend that all of you are dealing with.

BRETT FROOD: We’ve got 270 employees back in Kannapolis working hard. Tony has three other team members. These are folks that are at Stewart-Haas because they believe in the leadership, they believe in the ownership, believe in the folks that we have surrounding them, and we believe in them.

So for them, I think their focus has been undeterred over the last several weeks. They’re obviously really excited to have Tony back in the car, that leader, the guy they believe in. So I think the focus will be there this weekend from those guys. We should be good.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time. We certainly appreciate it.

Red Bull GRC: Switched-up field seeks to topple Speed, VW, Andretti

Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross kicks off its season this week from Memphis, a new event on the calendar and the series’ fourth different kickoff site in as many years. It also starts a month earlier than the past, with Barbados (mid-May, 2014) Ft. Lauderdale (late May 2015) and Phoenix (third week of May 2016) having been the curtain-raisers in the past few years.

Race coverage is on NBC network on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

With the trip down South the first step in the 12-race championship, it again provides a first look at whether anyone can topple Scott Speed and Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, as the two-time champion looks for a three-peat in his latest iteration of a Beetle GRC beast.

Most of the field is switched; at least one driver or team per entry is different for all teams this year, with the exception of Andretti.

Here’s the tentative field breakdown (field may be subject to change and extra additions):

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, Volkswagen Beetle GRC

34-Tanner Foust
41-Scott Speed

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will be the mantra here, as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Scott Speed seek their third straight title. Teammate Tanner Foust arguably had the better 2016 season – he won four races to Speed’s three – but lost the championship in a tough dynamic in the Los Angeles doubleheader, his weekend delayed a bit with the need to run an LCQ and thus losing track position if he’d make the final.

Speed’s enjoyed his time in GRC to this point, as he recounted in his first NBCSports.com blog of 2017, and has become one of the series’ marquee faces. While a three-peat would be good for him, it remains to be seen whether that is in the best interest of the series. Nonetheless, anything less than another round of victories and title contention from Red Bull GRC’s dynamic duo would be a surprise, and a disappointment.

Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, Honda Civic Coupe

16-Oliver Eriksson (R)
24-Mitchell DeJong (R)
93-Sebastian Eriksson

Red Bull GRC’s version of “Name that Eriksson” sees the unrelated pair of Swedes, Oliver and Sebastian Eriksson, racing for the Andreas Eriksson-led team whose success is world renowned in rallycross – except last year. In a rare off year for OMSE, the team spent more time dialing in the setup of it early before contending on outright pace. They got there by the end of the year but despite preliminary wins, never won a main event.

That should well change this year with Sebastian Eriksson the undisputed team leader in now his third season. Having two hungry young chargers alongside in past GRC Lites champions Oliver Eriksson and DeJong, the latter of whom has one Supercars weekend under his belt at Los Angeles last year, will only serve to push this team forward.

Subaru Rally Team USA, Subaru WRX-STi

18-Patrik Sandell
55-Chris Atkinson

Two lackluster years and only a handful of decent results have forced a major course reset at Subaru, and one which should see them back on proper race win-contending form throughout the 2017 season. If the enhancements from the team weren’t coming, particularly with a new car, it’s likely they wouldn’t have convinced Patrik Sandell to have left Bryan Herta Rallysport, where he overachieved and won races each of the last two seasons.

Sandell’s an ace and past Subaru World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson brought a degree of pace to this program that was lacking previously when he came in for the final events of 2016. The Australian figures to be a frontrunner as well.

Loenbro Motorsports, Ford Fiesta

00-Steve Arpin

A change in ownership and branding sees the former Chip Ganassi Rallycross program, which popped up before 2015 and did a two-year entry, now under the Loenbro Motorsports umbrella albeit with nearly all the same staff and crew intact. It is a big step for the company and for driver Steve Arpin, the likable Canadian who now lives in Minnesota, to strike out on their own. Arpin won his first Supercars final last year but may find the sledding tougher against the factory efforts and other privateer teams.

Bryan Herta Rallysport, Ford Fiesta

2-Cabot Bigham (R)

For a second straight year, Bryan Herta will have the fun situation where his name and team are separate in Red Bull GRC from Michael Andretti’s even though the two work together in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In Bigham, Herta’s found a potential diamond in the rough. The Northern California native took a surprise, but well-judged, win in last year’s GRC Lites season and has found the necessary budget to come up to the next level. “The Big Ham” will need to get his feet wet the first couple events but should start playing with the big dogs as the season progresses.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ford Fiesta

14-Austin Dyne

After striking out on his own last year with AD Racing, a year after running under the Herta tent, series CEO Colin Dyne’s son Austin will now work with another IndyCar outfit in RLL Racing, which makes its Red Bull GRC debut this year. The deep field has made it harder for Dyne to stand out – he has just three final round top-five finishes in the last two years – but with the RLL preparation behind him, it should see the series veteran improve this year.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.