Stewart fined $10K for not talking to media after race
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Stewart was fined $10,000 by NASCAR Friday and placed on probation through the end of the year for failing to meet his media obligations after the Nextel Cup race at Phoenix last weekend.
Stewart finished second in the race, but left the track without talking to reporters.
NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said the penalty had nothing to do with Stewart's comments Tuesday on his radio show when he criticized the way races are officiated.
Stewart questioned the validity of some debris cautions and added: "I don't know if they have run a fair race all year."
Hunter said NASCAR officials were shocked about Stewart's accusations.
"I cannot say strongly enough how disappointing this was to NASCAR," Hunter said. "One of our star athletes made what I call irresponsible allegations.
"To all the people who have helped build this sport over the years, to have what I would call just an out-of-the-blue comment that attacked the integrity of the sport, to me, was absolutely just wrong."
Stewart met with NASCAR officials At 6 a.m. Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. He later said he believed NASCAR was doing the right thing on all cautions.
Hunter defended NASCAR's process of throwing caution flags for debris on the track.
"Fans should try to understand why we throw a caution," he said. "We throw a flag when we think conditions on the track are unsafe. It doesn't matter who is leading or who is running 10th. We're going to err of the side of caution and not take a chance on safety."
Stewart would not reveal the people at the morning meeting, but Hunter said NASCAR president Mike Helton, Nextel Cup director John Darby and competition vice president Robin Pemberton were at the meeting.
Stewart's team was not allowed to unload the No. 20 Chevrolet from the hauler until the meeting ended.
Hunter said Friday was the first time NASCAR had fined a driver for failing to talk to the media. He said the entry list for each event states that the top three finishers and the top rookie finishers must report to the media center after the race.
Hunter said the reason the fine wasn't issued until Friday was that NASCAR officials were not able to contact Stewart until Thursday night when Helton spoke with Stewart by phone.
"We always want to give an athlete a chance to tell his sides of things first," Hunter said.
Stewart was told of the penalty in the morning meeting, but didn't mention it when he talked to reporters later Friday morning. The penalty wasn't announced until after 3 p.m. CT.
Despite NASCAR's disappointment with Stewart criticism, Hunter said NASCAR isn't trying to censor a driver's right to free speech.
"It's no secret that Tony is often very opinionated, and that's fine," Hunter said. "But people have to be mindful of what they say in this day and age. And this is the first time I can recall where a driver questioned and impugned the integrity of our sport."
Hunter was asked if Stewart's comments will damage the image on NASCAR.
"It's hard to measure what impact it will have," he said. "It's every sound bite and every headline. I don't know what the end result is going to be. Hopefully we'll move on and not have another incident like this in the future."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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