NASCAR President Mike Helton took questions from a group of reporters on Friday about the two appeals decided this past week which reduced or eliminated NASCAR penalties assessed to both Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Q: What is your reaction to the two appeal decisions this week?Helton: "It kind of is what it is now. The thing that we all need to remind ourselves is it’s not us against them or them against us, it’s us doing our job and them doing their job. We reacting to something that we find are not in tolerances that are spelled out. Our due process is as strong as any in sports and it takes its course. We’ve had a lot of activity through that due process recently. It can come out in any way, but that’s what due process is all for. I will say that every one of them has an opportunity to gain experience and we’ve done a lot of that recently.”
Q: Does this undermine your authority?
Helton: “I don’t think so. I think the members that are involved in the sport, the team owners, the supplies, the OEMs understand our responsibility and how seriously we take it and I don’t feel like this in any way undermines what we do. In most cases the processes don’t come back with anything that really changes our mind much. We do our job and the due process exists for the members to have an opportunity for others to listen to it and the decisions are made that way.”
Q: Would NASCAR react the same way next time in the same situation?
Helton: “Yeah, when it comes and we’ve had a lot of activity going on this week, but across the board I think we put a lot of thought into our reaction to start with. Every time something like this occurs, we put a lot of thought into it. The circumstances of each element are so different that it’s due that respect. When we do make a decision, it’s well thought out and we’ll stick by our decision also understanding that the due process has the opportunity to change that.”
Q: Does the JGR situation make it complicated if a Hendrick engine in a Hendrick car has a problem?
Helton: “First of all, I don’t know that we know exactly what the appeal members were thinking, but from the experience as I mentioned earlier, if there’s a way for us to be more precise in changing wording or adding wording to a rule so that the clarity of what we feel like our responsibility is translated to the member and is obvious to anybody from the outside looking at it, I think that’s where we benefit and the sport benefits from that experience.”
“I think we’ve got quite a bit of evidence in clearing up things.”
Q:Do you have any thoughts from Ryan Newman’s comments and how to keep the Gen-6 cars on the ground?
Helton: “I haven’t personally talked to Ryan Newman, but I also think that the evidence would support my statement that there is nothing more important to us in this sport than safety. The incident that occurred at Talladega with the 78 and 39 is something that we have the opportunity to take a look at, but the interpretation of what might have happened in that is up for debate I guess as it was delivered by the driver of the 39 car.”
Q: What does the last two weeks say about the independence of the appeal process?
Helton: “I will leave that to you all to decide. We are the authors of the appeal process so we know its intent, but I would leave the others to define whether it works right or not.”
"We’ve had a lot of appeals. We’ve had a lot of them upheld and we’ve had some that have been tweaked in some form or fashion through the due process and that’s why it’s there.”
Q: How can you find out what the appeals panel was thinking so you can be more accurate in your penalties in the future?
Helton: “I think first of all the integrity of the appeal process needs to be maintained as its independent of the regulating arm of NASCAR. Like I said earlier, we do learn from the appeal process as to how we may be able to write or be more clear so that you can show a third party why we reacted the way we reacted. I think the biggest part is that it’s part of our process. The appeal process is just part of our sport just like the officiating and the regulating has been ever since its existence.”
Q: Where is the line for a driver to get fined for comments?Helton: “We’ve told our drivers all along that you can challenge us, you can challenge NASCAR and our calls or us to a certain extent now whether or not this was pushed to the edge or not, that’s been debated. What you cannot do is criticize the product. Our determination in Ryan’s case was that he was challenging us. That’s what he was doing.”
Q: Is NASCAR happy with Middlebrook?
Helton: "You started this whole thing by saying the perception and I would leave that with you to start with. We’re content with our appeal process that it’s designed to be independent, it’s designed to have layers to it and the personalities involved are those that we chose to be involved.”
Q: Will the rule book be thicker next year?
Helton: “It gets thicker anyway, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be thicker to be clearer. I think there is evidence at NASCAR, particularly in the last decade or so to try to be more clear with things. Every experience we go through gives us the ability to understand what more clear means.”
Q: What do you want to be more clear from this experience?
Helton: “Everything. These are, the recent appeals are around specific parts and pieces, but around the engine area I think all of motorsports from go-karts to the grassroots level to the weekly tracks to all the national series that exist, engines are understood to be in that holy grail bucket and we need to be sure that we maintain the responsibility around the engine to be shared by the competitors because it’s not realistic for us to take a motor down in advance of an event like it is to measure parts and pieces that we can do that are visible to us. The motor is something that we cannot break apart until after the event is over with. The entire industry has historically and will continue to share the responsibility in that engine being correct.”
“I don’t agree that an element has been stripped out of it with the rule making process or our ability to rule the sport. It’s part of the due process and that’s how we look at it.”
Q: Did the Newman bar work in the Talladega accident?
Helton: “Both drivers walked out of the care center on their own so I would say that from that aspect of it, it worked. Robin and those guys will look at all the incidents that occur every weekend to see what we can improve and make better.”