Sources: General Motors Supported Stewart Sitting Out NASCAR Race At Watkins Glen
Stewart-Haas Racing was "in touch with GM officials" last Sunday as Chevy-sponsored Tony Stewart rethought his plan to race at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Watkins Glen Int'l, and the automaker "didn't demand that he pull out of the event but supported his decision to do so," according to Terlep & Bennett of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. SHR Dir of Communications Mike Arning said that team Exec VP Brett Frood "spoke with GM officials the morning of the event and notified them he wouldn't race" in the wake of the death of Kevin Ward Jr. on Saturday at a sprint car event. Arning: "No corporate entity played a role in Tony's decision to sit out." Terlep & Bennett cite sources as saying that GM "was pleased" Stewart decided not to participate. Frood added the team has been in "close contact" with its sponsors since the incident. Frood: "They are very supportive of him during this difficult time" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/13).
PROTECTING AN INVESTMENT: In Jacksonville, Don Coble writes NASCAR is a sport that "relies heavily on the star power of its top drivers," and it now is "dealing with another void." Stewart "missed the final 15 races" last season due to a broken leg suffered in a sprint car accident, and now his team "probably won't make" the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year. Regan Smith, who filled in for Stewart at WGI, has "proven to be a capable driver in the Nationwide Series," but he is "not who Mobil 1 and Bass Pro Shops want in their car." Mobil 1 and Bass Pro Shops "stood by Stewart last year when he broke his leg," but with yet "another setback created away from NASCAR, those companies could start demanding that Stewart do a better job of protecting their investment" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 8/13). However, ESPN's Michael Wilbon said Stewart should not race this weekend in Michigan because "there ought to be some time spent away." Wilbon said, "It's easy enough to satisfy your sponsors, no matter how interested in a return on their investment they might be, by saying, 'Look, we need to be appropriate here. We need to show some judgment, and we're not going to race this weekend out of respect to his family.'" He added, "What are the sponsors going to do, come out and demand that Stewart drive? NASCAR could take the lead. They could take him out of this and erase the dilemma." ESPN's Jason Whitlock said letting Stewart drive this weekend is "conduct detrimental to NASCAR." Whitlock: "This league and this sport have been so image-conscious, so brand-conscious. They've suspended guys for all kinds of things detrimental to the sport. Bringing this controversy to NASCAR would be a mistake if he were to run this weekend. No one would care about the race." Wilbon said the decision involves "leadership both at the top" of SHR and NASCAR. He suggested the team call Stewart's sponsors and say "'How do we make good on this privately behind the scenes?'" ("PTI," ESPN, 8/12).
IS STAYING IN THE CAR NECESSARY? In the aftermath of the Stewart incident, calls have come for NASCAR to install a rule in which drivers cannot exit their cars while on the track. NBCSN's Kyle Petty said, "When you make a rule like this or you throw something out there after a tragedy like this, that's not necessarily the best fix. You need to think it through. We need to think about what the ramifications of sitting in the car are compared to getting out of the car." He added, "I think there was a better way around it than just the knee jerk reaction of having a rule. Hopefully, they'll rethink this in the long run. I think a lot of this is just public opinion and public pressure off Twitter and social media right now.” NBCSN's Wally Dallenbach said, “A driver has to have responsibility for his actions. There's a lot of emotion in this sport and there’s of things that you do that you wish you hadn’t done later, but I think it has to come down to the drivers and the crews and the people like that being responsible. Maybe this is a little bit of a wake-up call to think twice about doing something like that, but it's part of the entertainment of this business. ... I hope they don't make a rule that says you have to sit in the car because that just opens up a totally different can of worms” (“NASCAR America,” NBCSN, 8/12). Meanwhile, FS1's Ray Dunlap said he thinks such a rule will "go into the many hundreds of short tracks" in the country. Dunlap: "That will be the one bright spot that may come out of this tragedy that maybe we can put ourselves in a position to save lives” (“NASCAR Race Hub,” FS1, 8/12).