NASCAR Media Conference
September 16, 2011
KERRY THARP: Mike has a few minutes here for you.
Q. The statement in regards to the incident yesterday was not able to find any evidence. The radio chatter seems to represent there's some evidence someone was informed of what was going on and that someone could have used that. Can you explain that?
MIKE HELTON: Yes. I think the statement Kerry put out yesterday afternoon kind of summed up the race from Saturday night.
During the course of the race, us officiating the race, we saw no evidence of anything out of the ordinary as far as actions we would have had to react to.
Q. Will you do any more investigating?
MIKE HELTON: In light of the suspicions, I guess, we're going to look into it and see if there is anything. A lot of it's going to be interpretation. But certainly I think it's on us to understand exactly what all we can find as far as facts are concerned.
I remind everybody that an incident like that is a race procedure. We have in the past reacted to cars that caused cautions during a race. So it doesn't necessarily mean that we would find something after the fact and react to it, but it certainly would probably play a role in going forward as to our observations.
Q. Do you have Channel 2 on your radio or a secret channel?
MIKE HELTON: I've got my secret channel (laughter). And, no, you can't have it.
Q. Are all channels observed by NASCAR?
MIKE HELTON: The rule book calls for analog channels to be used in all communications between crew chiefs, spotters and the driver. Now, there's a lot of radios out in the garage area that do a lot of other things. But the rules call for the analog channels to be used.
Most cars have multiple analog channels that fans in the grandstand, us in the tower, the industry listen to.
Q. In this situation when he says, Go to Channel 2. Do you have that audio?
MIKE HELTON: I haven't heard it yet. If it's out there, it's out there, but I haven't heard it yet.
Q. Does it frustrate NASCAR that leading into the Chase this is the conversation?
MIKE HELTON: The only thing that I'd ask everybody to cautiously go through is it's time to determine our 2011 champion. We've seen in the past accusations, suspicions, things that spool up. I think it's on all of our shoulders to get the facts right.
If there's something there, then we should find out about it and be sure that we've got it right. But it is a sport. These guys are athletes. They know how to work the situation.
Q. You said you're going to continue an investigation. What will that involve?
MIKE HELTON: It goes to looking at the video from the caution itself to determine if it appears that there was some purpose calls for it or done on purpose. Also getting access to the audio that may or may not be out there, make sure we get access to all that.
Q. You're here to officiate the race weekend. Is that something you can work on till next week?
MIKE HELTON: It's an ongoing process. I mean, we do stuff Monday through Friday, too.
Q. You have so much going on this week, can you focus on this or will it have to wait?
MIKE HELTON: Obviously, the focus is on this weekend. In the meantime, if we can find it, we've got resources, and there's a lot of folks out there that can work on things while we're at the racetrack focusing on the event.
Q. (Question regarding Jeff Gordon.)
MIKE HELTON: The drivers have the right to do what they want to do publicly as long as it's within reason. If he thought that was an issue, and obviously he did, he addressed it the way he did it, that's his right.
Q. Will there be a warning in the drivers meeting?
MIKE HELTON: If you were in last week's drivers meeting, you heard Robin mention to the fact, Let this take its own course. I think there's experience, since I've been in the NASCAR garage, but particularly in the last several years with the multiple-cars teams, the stakes have grown, the Chase has become part of it, we routinely remind the guys to let the race unfold itself.
But I'd also want to take a moment to make sure, we joke about there not being gentlemen agreements in our sport anymore, but I feel there's a code of ethics among drivers that is alive and well and very strong, particularly in the Sprint Cup garage.
I'm not necessarily overwhelmed by the chatter so far. Certainly we need to get our facts right and find out what, if anything, went on and be prepared to officiate it. As in the past, we've had conversations with drivers and car owners involved in the Chase or even before the Chase, come down to the wire to determine the championship.
But I still think the code of ethics among the drivers on the racetrack is really, really strong.
Q. Dale Jr. is the guy that tends in people's impressions to get the Lucky Dog when he needs it. Do you think this move by Gordon was a preemptive strike to deflect criticism? You Saturday night refused to give him a Lucky Dog because he brought out of the caution. He's in the Chase now.
MIKE HELTON: You're going to have to help me figure out what the question is.
Q. Dale Jr. tends to be seen by people getting preferential treatment.
MIKE HELTON: And how has that worked out so far?
Q. If you were to find something, what could be the repercussions?
MIKE HELTON: That's why I reminded everybody that it's a race procedure during a race to react to something like that. I think we have to wait and get all our facts right and interpret it. I think a lot of people would interpret different whatever type of conversation went on.
Q. Beyond the verbal warnings in drivers meetings, does NASCAR have any written policies where you can't do X or Y?
MIKE HELTON: No, but in the rule book there's a broad authority given to NASCAR to react to things that are detrimental. I think we would all deem that detrimental if that were the case.
Q. So you know it when you see it?
MIKE HELTON: I thought you were asking specific about the regulation. There's not a specific rule that addresses a team member or a relationship to an owner that helps out a car that a team owner owns. But there is a broad authority for the league to react to it.
Q. How could you after the fact go back, even if you did find something? It's over, we're into the Chase.
MIKE HELTON: That's why I mentioned earlier it's a race procedure. Those race procedures are unappealable, unchangeable.
I think the biggest thing is to make sure we get the facts right and understand the environment so we can police correctly going forward.
Q. To be clear, did anybody come to you guys either Saturday night or since and complain about the incident other than the public comments we've had?
MIKE HELTON: No, not to me. You'd have to ask Robin and John Darby. But not as a complaint about Saturday night.
Q. What did you discuss about the matter?
MIKE HELTON: We discussed the general topic of teammates and how that plays out on the racetrack.
Q. Nobody complained Saturday night?
MIKE HELTON: Not to me.
Q. Just to clarify, you keep saying it's a procedure.
MIKE HELTON: Race procedure.
Q. That means what is done is done and the only thing going forward is you can't do anything about what happened in the race?
MIKE HELTON: I'm not saying we can't. We can. But a guy calls in a caution during an event is a race procedure. It's like balls and strikes. You can't go back on Monday and change an out call or a foul ball call. That's the best I can explain the race procedure in our world.
It doesn't say we can't. If we see something that falls under the broader actions detriment or something, doesn't mean we can't. More than likely it's going to be considered a race procedure because I think so far most of it's based on interpretation of what you hear.
Q. Did you speak to Menard this weekend?
MIKE HELTON: We talk a lot every weekend about a lot of different things. About this specific topic, I think we'll wait till we get all our facts right.
Q. They say the audio about 'Do we need a caution' was possibly about retaliating against another driver, trying to figure out if it was the right time to do it or not. If that's the explanation they give you, especially in the world of 'boys have at it'?
MIKE HELTON: First of all, I'd want to wait and hear the audio and not rely on the different levels of interpretations that we've heard, then reach our own interpretation.
I guess you'd have to wait and then if the interpretation is very blatant it becomes a factor. But I still really at this point want to wait and make sure we get access to all the facts.
Q. It's hard to understand why you haven't heard the audio yet.
MIKE HELTON: There's a lot of audio. The audio that we would have heard Saturday night typically, and there's not necessarily a guarantee we hear the conversations on every driver, every lap out there, that's not part of the process necessarily to do that for every driver out there.
But the parts of conversations we've already heard are the ones that are subject to interpretation. We just keep looking for any others that might have more into it than what we've already heard.
Q. To clarify, it's a possibility they could have a discussion on a digital channel, not analog, and you wouldn't have access to it?
MIKE HELTON: The rules call for the drivers, crew chiefs and spotters to be on analog channels.
Q. But if the teams have a separate channel...
MIKE HELTON: The teams can talk to each other on digital channels about strategy or whatever. But when that communication is between the crew chief, the spotter and the driver, it has to be analog.
Q. But they could talk to each other and you wouldn't be able to access it?
MIKE HELTON: A crew chief could talk to the car owner or the team manager might talk to the tire guy or something like that on the digital. But the line of communication to the athlete on the racetrack is analog.
Q. In the history of NASCAR have you had issues about this? Is this the first time it's come around where it's been this serious?
MIKE HELTON: First of all, it's an allegation and suspicion and interpretation right now. I don't want to qualify all of this and say it's really something.
But almost every rule in the rule book is there for some reason. There's a couple of incidents that I can remember that probably generated this rule, but I won't get into it because some are still active out here, not as a driver.
Q. Is this something you will be watching as we get into the Chase?
MIKE HELTON: As we get into the Chase, actually it's reverse, we remind ourselves at the beginning of the year to officiate every race like it's the last race of the season. It's more typical for us.
But I think the better way of approaching it is to say that when there is suspicions or allegations, then we play closer attention to those specific allegations.
Q. What is the rule you're referring to? Is there a specific rule in the rule book that addresses this as far as teammates?
MIKE HELTON: No. Actually there's a general broad rule of actions detrimental that gives us the ability to react, and fairly broadly react as well.
Q. You have looked back at this?
MIKE HELTON: We're still looking at things. So far it's a function of interpretation anyway.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Mike.
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