Don’t look for NASCAR to rescind the $35,000 fine it issued to Tony Stewart last week. The sanctioning body fined the three time champion for comments he made that criticized the practice of using less than five lug nuts during a pit stop and the lack of NASCAR’s enforcement of the practice. Monday, they updated the rulebook and will now require teams to install all five lug nuts on a tire used on a racing vehicle in its top touring series.
In a memo sent to teams Monday afternoon, the sanctioning body told the organizations that they will be expected to have all five lug nuts installed in a safe and secure manner throughout all national series events. Since the start of the 2016 season teams have been using fewer than five lug nuts during it stops. Putting on fewer allows for faster pit stops. Although no wheels have come off during a race, in several instances drivers have been forced to pit again with loose wheels.
Last week during a media event Stewart was critical of the lack of enforcement by NASCAR. Stewart said his issue was that people will continue to push the envelope until someone is injured.
“And you will not have heard a rant that’s going to be as bad as what comes out of my mouth if a driver gets hurt because of a loose wheel that hurts one of them,” he said.
“With all the crap we’re going through with the safety stuff and for (NASCAR) to sit there and sit on their hands on this one, it’s not a game you play with safety,” Stewart added. “That’s exactly the way I feel NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this.”
After the rule change Monday, fans took to social media asking why the fine for Stewart wasn’t rescinded. Earlier Monday however, NASCAR Chairman Brian France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Stewart’s fine was based on what he said and how he said it.
“Tony has been very aware of how we approach from a criticism standpoint of the sport and the product of the racing itself and safety is paramount,’’ France told host Dave Moody. “Tony is very aware of how we look at that.’’
“I think we have to make judgment calls and how we look at the tone of what someone says, how they’re saying it,’’ France said. “They have ample opportunities, particularly with safety, to deal with us directly on that. But to insinuate that we’re taking the sport down a road that doesn’t care about safety or we’re trying to hurt people, those kind of comments, that goes to the integrity of the sport and we’ll have to deal with that. We go way beyond what any other league would allow in terms of how far people can go in voicing their view.”
Sunday prior to his first race back after an off season injury, Richmond, Stewart talked with FOX pre-race host Chris Myers and analysts Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip and Michael Waltrip. He was very adamant that a fine by NASCAR would not stop his comments.
“I understand what NASCAR is trying to do, but I’m always going to speak my mind,” Stewart said. “I don’t know what the key word or key phrase was that got me fined. But when it comes to safety, I’m not going to hold back. That’s $35,000 well-invested if it makes it safer for these guys.”
Tuesday France again took to the airwaves. He addressed the Stewart situation specifically.
“He’s part of the driver’s council and he’s an owner as well, so he has a direct line to express those views, which he did not do,’’ France said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We listen very carefully because their opinions are very important. When you imply that NASCAR doesn’t care about safety, you can expect a reaction from us.”
“By the way, what you don’t see is that most of the time, they do. They’re calling us, ‘Tell me about this, explain that, I don’t understand this,'” France said. “We get a lot of thank yous and a lot of cooperation that way. We’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re all trying to make the racing the best it can be, and we’re trying to make it as safe as we can, for sure, and have fun along the way.”
“It’s a fun business we’re in. We do cool stuff together,” he added. “We’re innovative, and we’re changing formats and we’re open to their suggestions. Almost all of our most important advice has really come from our drivers council and our drivers.”
“I always talk about Kevin Harvick had a big role in how we formatted the Chase, where we changed it around. We incorporated two of his ideas that have now served us really well. We have incredible appreciation and communication and a line that is open. Just because there is a line out there that every once in a while somebody crosses and we’ve got to react, that’s no big deal. They get it. They understand that. That’s part of a free-flowing, fun sport. Basically we’re all going in the same direction. Things have never been better. We’re thrilled.”
As for Stewart’s fine, the Sprint Cup Drivers Council released a statement Thursday night supporting Stewart and announcing it would pay his $35,000 fine. Stewart later respectfully declined their offer and will instead donate that money to a charity for Autism at Dover International Speedway next month when the Series visits. Stewart was unavailable for comment as he was participating in a two-day closed Goodyear tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday.