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DATE News (chronologically)
03/09/10
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Q&A with Mike Helton on Edwards/Keselowski accident
AN INTERVIEW WITH:
MIKE HELTON

HERB BRANHAM: Thanks, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the first of today's two NASCAR Cams. For this first one, we're joined by NASCAR President Mike Helton. He's going to open up with a brief announcement before taking some questions from the media. Mike, it's all yours.

MIKE HELTON: Thanks. Good afternoon, everyone. Revisit just a minute on the incident between the 99 and the 12 car. Following that incident we asked the driver of the 99 to visit us in the hauler, and we made it very clear to him that these actions were not acceptable and did go beyond what we said back in January about putting the driving back in the hands of the drivers. We believe the driver of the 99 understands our position at this point.

Also want to say that it's important for all of us to step back and separate the issue of what happened with the 99 and 12 on the racetrack and the fact that the 12 car went airborne. We've not seen a car get airborne much on the mile-and-a-half racetrack, and that's something that is very important to us and we want to study very closely to figure out things that we can do to help prevent this very quickly in the future.

This is a very important element of all of this that I would ask all of us to be reminded of the fact of the car getting airborne was a very serious issue. And that's something that we'll take a look at very quickly and try to figure out how to help prevent that happening in the future.

But as a reminder, once the incident occurred, we did park the 99 car for the remainder of the race and did not allow him to continue the event.

Sunday evening, all day Monday, and this morning we had several conversations internally as well as with the stakeholders in this situation including car owners, Roger Penske and Jack Roush. As a result of these discussions, we have reached the conclusion that Carl will also be put on probation for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup races, and Carl's aware of what that means.

Based on the conversations with Roger Penske and Jack, we also plan to meet with both drivers and both owners to get this matter resolved between the two drivers. Clean the slate, if you will, so that they can both go back to some hard, competitive, side-by-side racing that is NASCAR.

HERB BRANHAM: Thank you for the opener. We'll go to the media now for questions for Mike Helton. We have approximately 15 minutes, so we ask that you limit yourself to one question so we can get to as many as possible.

Q: Mike, when you've talked about drivers policing themselves as you did in January, do you mean not just being allowed to retaliate, but how and when? What I mean by that is with the rash of airborne cars there have been over the past year, do you think drivers will be less inclined to do paybacks the way Edwards did in Atlanta?

MIKE HELTON: Well, you'd have to ask the drivers what their opinions are after Sunday and seeing the 12 car get airborne in Atlanta. But in January, we were talking to the drivers directly and to the public about us backing away from the grip we might have on drivers and their driving style on the racetrack.

Throughout our history, we've seen incidents on the track where they were obviously a simple racing accident, some that were obviously intentional, some that we couldn't tell the difference on and may not have been able to react to.

But the clear message, I think, we sent in January was that we were willing to put more responsibility in the hands of the driver. But there is a line you can cross and we'll step in to maintain law and order when we think that line's crossed.

Q: What message do you think this sends to other drivers who are considering retaliation in the future? I mean, should they just expect a three-race probation if they do that?

MIKE HELTON: Well, I think first of all, I'll go back to the fact that we parked Carl as soon as the incident occurred for the balance of the event. You can look back at the incidents at Homestead where it was a one-lap penalty. So the immediate reaction from NASCAR was parking the car for the balance of the event. That in its own can be a serious reaction from us, I think.

The balance of it, I think, will still have to be sorted out among the drivers as to what their opinion or their interpretation of all of this is. But I do say there are two things here. It's a function of us wanting to do the right thing by the competitors on the racetrack from both sides. One allow them to race, but the other side of it is to maintain law and order within a reasonable step.

So a lot of that I'd have to yield to the drivers on what their opinions are and how they interpret all of this.

Q: If the 12 car doesn't get turned around backwards and airborne, are we even having this conversation some?

MIKE HELTON: Well, I think I'd ask you all that question and put it back in your hands. Obviously the 12 car getting airborne to us is a much more serious topic right now. Certainly we take what Carl did seriously, and we'll react to it accordingly and have, we feel like.

But the bigger topic is the 12 car getting airborne at a mile-and-a-half track which we typically don't see. It's been years since we've seen that. So a lot of our effort yesterday, today and until we find resolve to it is figuring out how it happened, why it happened and what we can do to prevent it from happening in the future.

Q: You mentioned earlier in your answer to Nate that NASCAR will step in to maintain law and order when we feel that line has been crossed. Does NASCAR know what that line is yet or is it still a wait-and-see?

MIKE HELTON: I don't know that it's a wait-and-see, but I think we see it when we see it. And us stepping in to maintain law and order isn't always just a result of a penalty being issued or a public reaction from us. There are a lot of things that we do behind the scenes with owners and drivers to balance these type of things out, we think.

There has obviously been an evolution of a relationship between these two drivers, and that's why in the conversation with Roger Penske, he asked -- his biggest concern was being sure that this was all said and done and it was over with. And that is some of the things that we can do to maintain law and order beyond just issuing penalty notices.

Q: You mentioned having more discussions with the drivers and the owners. Will that happen at Bristol or sometime before Bristol or do you know yet?

MIKE HELTON: We're working on that schedule, but certainly it wouldn't be later than the Saturday or Sunday in Bristol.

Q: Is it fair to say that your decision with Carl here wasn't based on just that one incident at the end of the race at Atlanta, but the whole body of work between these two?

MIKE HELTON: No, I think our reaction of parking the 99 car in Atlanta was a direct reaction of what happened on the racetrack at that moment. I think some of the other conversations and the continual dialogue that we're having with the owners and the drivers is a result of the evolution of the relationship.

But I think our reaction Sunday afternoon of putting Carl in the garage for the rest of the event and the probation is a result of the single incident that happened between the 99 and the 12 in Atlanta.

Q: I've been seeing coverage of this. Diane Sawyer on the Nightly News, Nightline, and attention that NASCAR hasn't always been getting. Is any publicity good or the talk about settling scores and this crash and drivers taking it out on each other, is that good for NASCAR or is it not?

MIKE HELTON: Well, you'd have to ask 25 different people and you'd probably get 25 different opinions of what's good and what's not.

Again, I go back to the most serious issue from Sunday was the 12 car getting off the ground, and I think that also contributed to the spectacle of the episode. So we're very concerned and very aggressive at trying to figure out how to make that not happen again. Any car getting airborne at a racetrack is something that is high on our priority list to correct.

Q: Wanted to ask you, looking back even to last year toward the end of the season, you had the incidents at Homestead, and I know you talked about how you penalized those, and you had had the incident in Atlanta. Now you're seeing these payback incidents more often at higher speed tracks than say the short tracks.

At what point does that become a concern when you're talking about potential paybacks at tracks where they're going 180 miles-an-hour or more? And also because you've talked about the seriousness of the 12 getting airborne, can you also address what you guys are doing at this point to look into that issue?

MIKE HELTON: I go back to separating the two. The 12 car getting airborne is an issue, and I'll talk about how we're addressing it in just a second. I think to the first part of your question about our reaction, it comes from an epidemic level maybe of how often and how routine. Historically, if you look back at NASCAR's reaction to things, we may react to the first incident differently than we react to the third or fourth or fifth incident.

So it's how much interaction or reaction does NASCAR have to have to turn the tide back in the direction where it should be. That is typical on any penalty whether it's a payback in Bristol or payback in Daytona, and we've had them all over the map everywhere we go.

But it's also typical of NASCAR's reaction to a direction that crew chiefs maybe going in the garage area with different things. We'll escalate our reaction to prevent the direction that maybe we think is going in the wrong direction and turn it back around.

What we're doing right now with the 12 car is studying it. We've got a lot of technology with data recorders, just like we do with the 39 car in Talladega. Now we've got the second element of the 12 car from Atlanta that we can look at the dimensions of the car. We can look at the impact that the car took and the reaction of the roll cage and the hoop and different elements that we saw that did their job, but how much better can we make those components work so that doesn't happen again?

We also can look from the technology, the data recorder, the speeds, all the things that we have access to today to determine the high speed in Atlanta maybe on par with Daytona and Talladega now. If that's the case, where else does that transfer to? Then we'll come up with a reaction from all of that study.

Q: You said you were going to talk with both drivers' car owners. Can you elaborate on the message you want to convey to Brad as well? I think we've got the idea on Carl, but what is the message you want to convey to Brad?

MIKE HELTON: I think it separates a little bit in this conversation. It's more of an open dialogue among the two drivers to discuss the issues they might have with each other and reach a resolve that way.

It's not as much as us lecturing or mentoring at this point as it is for the two drivers to talk it out and the owners listening to the conversation and their input's important. I think Roger and Jack's input will be very important in this conversation as we've learned from the past.

And then ultimately the drivers understand the seriousness of this topic and the fact that, you know, we expect them to race on the racetrack that NASCAR fans expect them to, and we expect them to and you expect them to.

But if there's a rivalry that goes on while racing, then they need to figure out how to manage that before we get more involved in it.

Q: Recently some executives from NASCAR at a media tour said, have at it and have a good time, when referring to aggressive driving. Another executive said, we want to see what you want to see. More contact. This is a contact sport. We want to see drivers mixing it up. Do you think the executives are promoting aggressive driving and what message are they sending to drivers?

MIKE HELTON: We're promoting typical NASCAR driving, side-by-side racing with our type of race cars. And that's what we talked about back in January. A lot of that came from the conversation of NASCAR taking stock of its rules and regulations to back away from the grip we may have on drivers that caused the driver to pull up to a car and say, well, I think I can get around him, but maybe I can't. And if I hit him, I don't want to pay the price for what that costs.

So we were telling the drivers and telling the public that we told the drivers that we were going to back off on that grip we had. But there is a line you can cross. When you cross that line in our opinion, we're going to get involved with you.

HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. Mike Helton, thank you very much for taking some time to spend with us today. We truly appreciate it.

MIKE HELTON: Thank you.

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