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.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices at Barber

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama (there’s one final practice plus qualifying on Saturday):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “It’s great…home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis (Motor Speedway) because it’s an hour closer, so I think that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately, we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH (Racing) back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. It’s very technical, but it’s got a lot of flow to it. It feels kind of like a roller coaster to me is the best way to describe the style of it. I have a lot of fun here. I think it’s great. We’re going to try and have a good weekend. We had a pretty good start for the most part. We had some issues in the first session. Just kind of been dealing with a couple things that I think we got sorted out for the second session there, but we seem like we’ve got some speed. I think our other cars got some speed, as well. Simon (Pagenaud) looked like he suffered from maybe a similar problem, and I don’t think Will (Power) had a very good lap, so I think those guys will be right there with us. Team Penske I think is going to be strong tomorrow, I’m sure.

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We’re struggling with understeer in mid-corner, so we need more rotation in the car. If we can fix the mid-corner understeer, we’re going to have a fast car tomorrow. We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We learned a lot today. We tried to come test here a few weeks ago, but unfortunately Mother Nature had a different plan, so we didn’t get a lot of running in. We came into this weekend with a bit of an evolution from what we tested, still were a little bit off, and over lunch, the Arrow Electronics guys made a couple of great changes. It doesn’t look great on the time sheets because our fast lap was when that red flag came out, so they took it away from us. I think we’re decently inside the top 10, which is a big jump from this morning.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We lost water pressure somewhere in the Lucas Oil car, so we’re playing it safe. No water pressure means no water circulation to the engine, then it overheats and blows up. We’re taking the precautions to keep the engine alive, but unfortunately, we stopped after a couple of laps. It’s an hour free practice and we only did two competitive laps, so we’re just watching everyone else improve their cars and we aren’t able to right now. It’s pretty disappointing.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We’re in the ballpark at the front, which is a good start for the No. 9 PNC Bank team. The Penske cars are up front and I think that’s a result of them doing some additional testing here. We kind of expected that to start. We did a qualifying run and the car was just too loose for some reason. And then we were fighting understeer this morning, so we’ve seen both sides of it. Now it’s up to us to get it right for qualifying tomorrow.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a difficult end to the day for us. I think after starting well this morning, we struggled in the afternoon. It could have been the heat that affected us, I’m not really sure. Tonight, we’ll have to look at the data and what we learned from the NTT DATA car, talk to Scott (Dixon) and look toward tomorrow. I’m optimistic because we have a good base setup and we just need a little bit more work to get it right.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think once again the temperature of the track really makes it tough in these cars. It was very nice this morning and was easy to get lap times. And then all of a sudden this afternoon, even on reds (Firestone alternate tires), it’s very difficult to get the car right. We’re going to have to go back and have a good think about it.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a difficult day. We’re struggling a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Today was OK. I didn’t think that we were great there in the second practice, but if you’re off a little bit, it can make a five-, six-, seven-spot difference. It’s going to be really tight (on the time sheets) there tomorrow, so we’ve got to work on it and get it a little better.” (About whether qualifying performance is even more important if rain falls during the race:) “Qualifying will be important, but I think if it’s rainy, I think you will be able to make moves and you will see a lot of guys make mistakes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “I am not quite sure what to think about the whole day. We are not super happy with the car, but in the meantime, it is decently fast. We made some gains and at least the car is doing one thing, so that’s the good thing. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 is in the ballpark. It seems like all we are doing right now is preparing for qualifying because it is definitely going to rain on Sunday. We are going to have to think very hard on what we are going to do in those conditions. We just have to keep working and see what we get tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We didn’t have a great morning aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car as we struggled a bit with the balance, but the second practice session was a lot better. We ended up P12, but had the potential for a lot more. When we went out on the Firestone red (alternate) tires near the end of the session, a red flag came out and that didn’t help us. I think we definitely could have been in the top 10, maybe even the top five. Overall, it’s encouraging heading into practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “This morning was really good and we made some good progress. For this afternoon’s session, we changed a couple of things to see if they helped. We’re keeping the tradition, though, of not getting a lap time on reds (Firestone alternate tires), between traffic and red flags and yellows. We are farther down than I think we should be. We should be quite a bit quicker, probably seven or eight tenths faster than what we were. We’re not a million miles away. We just need a few more small improvements to get me a bit more comfortable with the car.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “That was a really good session. It’s nice to end up at the front here at Barber. It’s one of my favorite tracks, I really enjoy it. The session was good right from the get-go on black (Firestone primary) tires. We were quite fast, then when we put the reds (Firestone alternate tires) on, the car just gained more grip. Sometimes when you put them on, it can really change the balance, but this time it felt really good. We were able to get a little more out of the car in pretty much every corner. I’m very happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy so far, hopefully we can keep it up there.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The car is really fast. It was a really good session to start. But unfortunately, we had a bit of a spin on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) trying a little too hard, I guess. That’s what you have to do before qualifying. You have to find the limits, but I’m very happy with the Menards car. I think we’ll be in great shape tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “So far, it’s just been really nice to have experience at this track, which makes it a little easier coming in. We’ve been trying a lot of things today and I think we were a little stronger in the morning than this afternoon. We have a bit to go back and look at, but compared to where I was here last year, it’s night and day difference. I’m just happy to have the opportunity that we do, and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “This morning was definitely a struggle for all of us. I think the No. 27 car was the most outside of the window, but we made a lot of improvements over lunch. We have something to be positive about going into this evening and looking forward to tomorrow. I think we need to take one or two steps in a similar direction, but if we can do that, I think the Kerauno car will be good enough for the Firestone Fast Six.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think we made steady progress through the day. We started out with the rear of the car way too exposed, too loose through most corners. We needed to bring it more into the window, which I think we did in the final session, considering we didn’t get a full run on new red tires due to a red flag. I think the DHL car has some good pace in it, so hopefully we can make the next step tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The second session was better. I think we made some good progress from the first one. The first session was a little bit of finding the right direction to go in and it seems we found one. Still, we have a little work to be done Saturday. Having said that, there was quite a few yellows and red flags that interrupted the session. I know everyone is in the same boat, but our best lap was like a rerun and we were never able to do a long run, so it’s a little gray on how we will be for Sunday (in the race). We lost some downforce compared to last year and the tires have quite a good drop-off, or degradation, so after you use them the first or second timed lap, the tires are losing a lot of grip. It’s not a huge amount, we’re talking about a small amount, but it’s enough to make a difference. We are trying a different kind of philosophy in terms of the mechanical setup, trying to match the balance and grip level of where we were last year, so that’s why everyone is trying different things. Some people struggle, some people find a happy place.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “I think that the practice went well in the beginning. We did find some improvement, so it went better and better. Then we put the red tires on and I tried to push hard and maybe a little too much. I then lost the car, it went straight into the wall. It was a little bit too late with my hands, taking them off the steering wheel, so my left hand hurts a little bit.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Tough day for us today. We had a mechanical issue towards the end of Practice 2, so it cut our time on track short. I know the Harding Racing guys are working hard to make sure everything will be good to go tomorrow for Practice 3 and qualifying. We’ll keep at it tonight to be ready to push tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): “The Kerauno car was decent today, and coming out of Friday in the top 10 is a good place to start the weekend. We have a few things we want to work on overnight that I think will help the car be even better, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. Hoping to make it into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and challenge for the pole.”