Here’s a written recap of what happened this morning at Michigan International Speedway, when Stewart-Haas Racing executive Vice President Brett Frood, driver Jeff Burton and Competition Director Greg Zipadelli addressed the media.
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. I thank you for your time this morning. Certainly appreciate it. Up here is Jeff Burton, our interim driver of the No. 14 car this weekend. Greg Zipadelli, VP of competition, Stewart Haas Racing, and Brett Frood executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing. There will be some questions that we simply will be unable to answer. There is an ongoing investigation to the tragic accident that took place last Saturday night. We’re going to respect the process and the people involved in that investigation.
With that, we’re here today simply to brief everyone on our current plans, and that includes Jeff Burton in the No. 14 car here at Michigan. No decisions have been made regarding any upcoming races.
With that, we’ll open it up to questions. We’ll really just take a handful and go on about our day here.
Q. Brett, was this decision not to have Tony race this weekend, was it based on his emotional state, the ongoing investigation? If it’s the latter, will he not race again until the investigation is complete?
BRETT FROOD: This decision was Tony’s. An emotional week for him. He’s grieving. Made the decision he’s not ready to get in the racecar and will take it week by week.
It will be up to Tony when he’s ready to get back in the car.
Q. Brett, where is Tony? Are you in contact with him constantly? How much is he playing a role as far as other decisions at SHR?
BRETT FROOD: Tony is surrounded right now by his closest friends and family. We’re obviously in contact with him.
His location is of a private nature right now.
Q. How is everything, sponsorship, at Stewart Haas Racing? Jeff, talk about stepping in the racecar after a situation like this.
BRETT FROOD: From a sponsor standpoint, we’ve got the greatest sponsors in the world. They’re very caring. They understand it’s an emotional time. There’s much sympathy for the family of the young man, and the care for Tony. We’ve had a great deal of support from our partners.
As far as getting ready for this weekend, the task at hand for Greg, the rest of our crew, is to prepare four cars for our drivers and figure out how to win this weekend at Michigan.
JEFF BURTON: My role here is to hopefully provide a little stability, give that team a chance to have the most success they can have in a very difficult situation.
Hopefully, me being here in some kind of way can help, I don’t know how, but hopefully I can find a way to help a healing process start. I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody.
Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for everybody. But there’s a lot of people at Stewart Haas Racing that work really, really hard and deserve 100% effort from me, and that’s what they’re going to get.
Q. Jeff, can you walk us through when the team reached out to you? Can you also give us a reaction to the NASCAR rule that was announced about 45 minutes ago?
JEFF BURTON: I think NASCAR is in a position to in some cases immediately respond to situations. As we all know, NASCAR has been unbelievable in regard to safety. I believe they have led the industry as it relates to safety for the last 10 years or so. I think NASCAR does a really good job of looking at all the information and making the best decision they can make.
I support the decision that they feel like it’s what they need to do. It’s pretty simple. I’m proud that they want safety to be on the forefront. That’s what this rule is all about.
Q. When did the team reach out to you?
JEFF BURTON: Greg reached out to me ‑ my days are getting blurred ‑ I think Wednesday morning to ask if I was interested. So it started the process. It was just in case Tony decides. We didn’t really know. But it was a Wednesday morning conversation. And he gets up earlier than I do, by the way.
Q. After this terrible accident, I looked online what was written in Europe. There was a lot of speculation and reports that are totally wrong. When all the investigations are completed, are you planning to put this right and inform the media this and this happened instead of media, especially in foreign countries, writing speculation articles?
BRETT FROOD: We certainly understand the media has a job to do. While there may be some irresponsible reporting, right now the focus of everyone should be on the family that’s grieving. There has been some of that focus that hasn’t been there.
I’m quite certain when we get through this that everyone will get the story from the key parties.
Q. Brett, will Jeff be your interim driver throughout? Are there any concerns about the overall stability of SHR?
BRETT FROOD: Jeff will be the driver this weekend at Michigan. We have not discussed any other races. We’ll talk to Tony. When he’s ready to get in the car, he’ll be in there, and we’ll go from there.
Q. Does this affect the overall stability of Stewart Haas Racing?
BRETT FROOD: Absolutely not.
Q. Brett, the way NASCAR rules work, Tony would have to start today to still be eligible for the Chase. Is this in effect his resigning from consideration for the Chase this year?
BRETT FROOD: I’ll be honest, the Chase is of the lowest priority as it relates to Tony right now. As far as the Chase, the only care I have this weekend is to get Danica in the Chase.
Right now, it’s about getting Tony in a better place than he is. When he’s ready to do that, he’ll get back in the car. Don’t care about the Chase.
Q. Jeff, do you feel there’s any entertainment value lost with the rule change this morning?
JEFF BURTON: I don’t know. I mean, I think safety overrides entertainment. Even if it does, it doesn’t matter.
Q. Understandably Tony is devastated, as you say. A lot of people are wondering how Tony is doing. Can you talk about where he’s at right now.
BRETT FROOD: It’s been an emotional week for him. He’s grieving. Anytime someone is lost, especially at a racetrack, it’s tragic. It was a tragic accident, and he’s dealing with quite a bit of grief.