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.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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