Helton: Tony Stewart still eligible for Chase, but must win to get in

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Tony Stewart is still eligible to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR president Mike Helton announced Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“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,” Helton said.

“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.”

In other words, Stewart must win either Sunday night in Atlanta or next Saturday night in the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond to make the expanded 16-driver field of the 11th edition of the Chase.

Helton said there has been no consideration of expanding the field to 17 drivers, much like it was expanded to 13 for last season’s Chase due to the Michael Waltrip Racing scandal that occurred at Richmond.

“We haven’t had anyone suggest it, and that’s not on the table right now,” Helton said. “It’s simply if Tony were able to earn a spot in the Chase, and our decision is currently yes.”

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Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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