Transcript: NASCAR Richmond Penalty Teleconference

September 13, 2013

An Interview With:

           

BRIAN FRANCE

MIKE HELTON

THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon.  Thanks for being here today.  Before we get started, just want to thank everybody for their patience this week, understanding our need to go through a thorough process.  We have with us today NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR President Mike Helton.  After they make some brief remarks, we'll take about four or five questions and then my team will be here later to help with any follow-ups.

            With that we'll turn it over to Mike Helton.

            MIKE HELTON:  As you're well aware, we've been looking at a lot of video, audio and timing and scoring information and other data from the Richmond race.  We reacted earlier this week and then based on further due diligence, what we're determined to do -- what we've decided is in addition to what other actions we've taken, we're going to put Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing both on probation for the balance of the year for actions detrimental.

            And in addition we are organizing a mandatory meeting with drivers and owners and crew chiefs for tomorrow to hopefully address and make more clearly the path going forward as it applies to the rules of racing and the ethical part of it.

            Basically what I'm saying is that we've decided that we will put Front Row and Penske Racing on probation for the balance of the season for actions detrimental.

            BRIAN FRANCE:  In addition to that, we've decided that due to the totality of the events that were outside of Jeff Gordon's -- his issues, we're going to add a 13th position to the field, and Jeff Gordon will qualify for the championship this year, the Sprint Cup Championship.

            We believe in looking at all of it that there were too many things that altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified, and I have the authority to do that.  We are going to do that.  It is an unprecedented and extraordinary thing, but it's also an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways on Saturday night, and we believe this was the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is our number one goal of NASCAR.

            Mike mentioned a moment ago, we will be clarifying in a significant way the rules of racing and the rules of the road going forward, and we will be looking forward to that meeting and addressing the media after that, after we meet with the teams to clarify that with certainly with the media and our fan base.

            Q.  For Mike or Brian, I guess the term that's been used in the past few days is that Pandora's box was sort of opened.  In the meeting to clarify with drivers, what will be discussed?  What can and can't be done going forward?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  All of it.  We're going to have as much clarity to where the line is, and obviously we drew a line Monday night with the penalties with Michael Waltrip Racing.  So obviously what we're going to do is we're going to protect, no matter what it takes, the integrity of the sport will never be in question, and that's what we're going to make sure, that we have the right rules going forward that are clear so that the integrity of the competitive landscape of the events are not altered in a way or manipulated.  And that will be what we will be addressing.

            Q.  Can a teammate let a teammate (inaudible)?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  I said we will address the media tomorrow after we address the teams.

            Q.  Brian, how unprecedented is this in the sport?  How much -- if you could compare it to anything that's happened in the sport, did it verge on affecting the integrity of the sport which you are now making these decisions because of?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  I think more than anything, it's just the right thing to do, more than anything.  You know, as I said, there were just too many things that went on Saturday night that gave a clear disadvantage and we deemed unfair to the 24 that we needed to address that.  That's why we withhold the right to in extraordinary circumstances do important things like we did today.

            Q.  Do you recall anything like this ever before this?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, you know, you'd have to ask people that have lost races and lost championships as a result of that.  You could go down the list of what is important.  It's unusual because we've only had the Chase over the course of 10 years or so, so obviously the first time that -- and we would prefer not to be in this position, obviously, but we are, and that's our judgment.

            Q.  Where do you draw the line as far as what has just been the fabric of racing in the past, things that we have seen throughout time?  Richard Petty, The King, walked up to me, said had what happened between the 22 and Gilliland's team had happened in Atlanta, it would not have been blown up to this proportion, so where do we draw the line between what just is a natural occurrence or perhaps part of our fabric, and what is untoward?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  We'll be addressing that tomorrow.  We're going to be very clear about that.  But we owe it to the drivers and we also want to get obviously input.  We will be explaining it to them and the crew chiefs and others before we'll address that, but we certainly will address that.

            There are lines.  They will be much clearer coming out of tomorrow than they are today.  But listen, the most important thing is the integrity of the event, and we'll deal with that.

            Q.  How hard was it to find the balance of where Jeff Gordon may have finished if the events of MWR hadn't happened to what else could have happened in the last nine or so laps in determining that outcome?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, it wasn't one set of circumstances that led us to this decision.  It's a multiple set of circumstances that any one of them could have altered and given him a disadvantage.  But cumulatively they were just overwhelmingly, in our view, in such a way that that just wasn't fair.  We needed to try to see if there was a way that -- we can't go back and run the event again, but we also are trying to be as fair and equitable as we can with all the teams.  And this is an example of that.

            Q.  Brian, I guess if you could address the difference in the penalty here of Michael Waltrip Racing versus Front Row, and obviously Michael Waltrip, the penalty is more severe, but you're putting Gordon back in the Chase after the Front Row penalty.  Could you discuss why those penalties are different.  And Mike, will there be any change in terms of officiating to keep this from happening again, team orders and changes in the tower, things from that perspective?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, in respect to Gordon, Jeff Gordon being -- that wasn't a result of just our findings with the Michael Waltrip incident, or rather the 38 and the 22; it was a cumulative set of circumstances that we determined the right thing to do would be to put him into the Chase.

            We did not conclusively determine that Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports actually did anything in terms of on the track that we can conclusively say there was a quid pro quo or altering of the event.  As Mike said earlier, we're looking at the radio discussions, who had those discussions, the idea of a bargain that is completely off limits in our view.  But that bargain never -- we don't believe that bargain ever happened, and we don't believe anything happened, other than the discussions about it, and that's why the probation is -- we're sending we think an appropriate message there.

            MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, a couple of points.  One, I think the -- and we'll clarify a lot of this after we've addressed the teams and got their input and concluded what happens next.  But we've had moments in the sport where NASCAR reacting to what has evolved on the racetrack and through the teams' actions, and we make a decision that shifts that paradigm, so to speak, and that's what's happened this week in part.

            As an example, it may not be a very good one, but some of you will remember we used to race back to the flag, and we didn't; we stopped that.  And when we decided that what was acceptable was no longer acceptable, it changed the paradigm.  So we for several weeks after that had to define what that meant.  So that's kind of the moment we're in, that we'll address with the teams and the media and the fans, as to what this shift means.

            As it comes to officiating, that goes along with it.  So whatever our decision is on how that changes for the playing field for the teams, we'll have to shift our officiating with it.  And as we talked on Monday night, what technologies and what we can use going forward to be more fair and precise and informed about what happens on the racetrack to use in order to regulate the sport, we'll chase that, as well.

            Q.  Brian, one of the arguments that you and others have used in the past for not taking away wins was that race fans needed to know when they left the track who the winner was and what took place.  This week we've now seen the results of who got in the Chase change twice in six days.  How does that kind of get paired with the philosophy of fans leaving knowing who the winner is, or does it change the philosophy behind possibly not taking wins away?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  No, we still stand by that basic premise that we'd like to know who the winner is Sunday night.  What we're talking about here is a set of extraordinary circumstances in multiple ways with multiple drivers and multiple teams that impacted the race.  And the only way to address it, we believe, is the way we have, punishing the teams that participated in that in some form or fashion, and trying to see if there was a way to, in this case, make Jeff Gordon have an opportunity to race for a championship, which we believe he deserves that in an effort of a fair playing field.

            THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, Mike, Brian.  To the members of the media, we'll get back to you on timing for tomorrow, but we will address that after the meeting that we have with the competitors.  Thank you.

 

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