NASCAR has issued a $35,000 fine to Tony Stewart, within six hours after announcing his return to racing at Richmond, for comments he made Wednesday at an event to promote his team sponsor Mobil 1’s involvement in NASCAR’s Race to Green initiative. Stewart’s comments were about drivers being allowed to pull off of pit road with loose lug nuts.
“I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt,” said Stewart. “You will not have heard a rant that’s going to be as bad as what’s going to come out of my mouth if a driver gets hurt because of a loose wheel that hurts one of them.”
“With all the crap we’re going through with all the safety stuff and for them to sit there and sit on their hands on this one… this is not a game you play with safety and that’s exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this.”
NASCAR stopped requiring teams to put all five lug nuts on its wheels at the start of last season, as part of its new pit road technology initiative that also reduced the officiating force along pit road. With officials no longer in every pit box, NASCAR said it was up to the teams whether they should put all five lug nuts on the wheel or not.
On race weekends a few precious seconds could mean leading the race, teams are exploiting the rule, securing as few as three lug nuts, creating an epidemic of loose wheels in the sport. Stewart said it’s only a matter of time before that ends badly.
“If you only want us to put one lug nut on, then give us bubs that have one lug nut like an IndyCar or Formula One car, and then we don’t have to worry about it,” Stewart said. “But this is not a game you play with safety and that’s exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this.”
According to Section 12.8.1 of the NASCAR rule book, actions that could result in a $10,000-$50,000 fine include disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR’s leadership, or verbal abuse of a NASCAR official, media members and fans.
“It is a never-ending assignment and we accept that,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said earlier in the day. “We do take offence that anything we do is somehow leading towards an unsafe environment, so he’s (Tony Stewart) wrong on that. And we’ll deal with the later. Safety…that’s the most important thing we have to achieve and we’re going to continue to do that. Nobody has led, done more and achieved more in safety than we have.”
Stewart, who is in his final year as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing has never been shy about speaking his mid on NASCAR’s perceived failings and shortcomings in the past and perhaps that is why NASCAR fined him heavily. Stewart has been fined on a number of occasions for both his actions on and off the track.
After the race as Texas Motor Speedway, where there were multiple loose wheels, during his weekly appearance on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel, NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said, “We’ve got our competition meeting monthly where we meet with the teams and certainly raise any issues that they see as something we’ve got to address, probably more so immediately. In our minds, we put that back on the teams.”
Prior to Stewart’s comments, O’Donnell said, that teams should be able to figure out the right thing to do.
Thursday night the Sprint Cup Drivers Council released a statement on Stewart’s punishment from NASCAR, supporting the three-time champion and announcing it would pay his $35,000 fine. The statement was released by Drivers Council member Denny Hamlin.
“We as drivers believe Tony has the right to speak his opinion on topics that pertain to a sport that he has spent nearly two decades helping build as both a driver and an owner. While we do not condone drivers lashing out freely at NASCAR, we do feel Tony was in his rights to state his opinion. We as a Council support him and do not agree with the fine. Therefore, we fellow council members have agreed to contribute equally to paying his fine.”
A loose wheel is a safety hazard for drivers, who can be left with little to no warning of losing control at a high rate of speed. With the competition meeting monthly NASCAR most likely would have preferred Stewart to handle the matter behind closed doors.