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.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Saturday times and notebook

New Tatuus PM-18. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.

Times are below, followed by notes.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session); Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.8246 (Session 4)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.9875 (Session 4)
4. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.2067 (Session 4)
5. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
6. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.2563 (Session 4)
7. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
8. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
9. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:17.1030 (Session 4)
10. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.5179 (Session 4)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8920 (Session 2)
2. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
3. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
4. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.2252 (Session 2)
5. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:20.2456 (Session 4)
6. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.7373 (Session 4)
8. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
9. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:21.1250 (Session 2)
10. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:21.4425 (Session 4)
11. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:23.0447 (Session 4)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Gutierrez. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photgraphy

1. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
2. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
3. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.6882 (Session 3)
4. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
5. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:26.0760 (Session 2)
6. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:26.1432 (Session 3)
7. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
8. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2751 (Session 2)
9. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:26.3193 (Session 4)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.4349 (Session 4)
11. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
12. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5739 (Session 4)
13. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
14. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.8219 (Session 3)
15. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.0620 (Session 4)
16. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.2107 (Session 4)
17. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
18. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.6730 (Session 2)
19. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, No Time
20. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Kohl and McElrea joined Gutierrez in Pabst’s pace. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
  • Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
  • Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
  • Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
  • His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
  • Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
  • In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
  • Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
  • Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
  • While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
  • Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
  • USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.