NASCAR said late Friday that they would look at the rules concerning the amount of lug nuts placed on tires during pit stops. This season crews have used fewer than five lug nuts on a tire in order to speed up pit stops and gain a competitive advantage on the track. While no wheels have come off during a race, several drivers have been forced to pit again with loose wheels, negating any advantage.
Earlier this week Tony Stewart criticized NASCAR for not enforcing a rule that requires crewmembers to put all five lug nuts on a wheel during a pit stop. He characterized the issue as one of safety.
“I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt,” Stewart told The Charlotte Observer. “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.”
“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.”
Thursday NASCAR announced the fine saying Stewart violated Section 12.8.1 of the rulebook; 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, fans, etc. The fine came on the same day Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Stewart been cleared by his doctors and NASCAR to return to racing, effective immediately. Stewart who missed the first eight races of the season will drive the Chevrolet SS fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing throughout this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway. The Sprint Cup Drivers Council released a statement Thursday night on Tony Stewart’s punishment from NASCAR, supporting the three-time champion and announcing it would pay his $35,000 fine.
Stewart will start 18th Sunday after rain on Friday cancelled qualifying. Shortly after NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller met with the media concerning the lug nut issue.
“The rules have been pretty clear (the past two seasons) and we’ve really never had, until this point. too much trouble,” Miller said. “Obviously there are strong rules in place and pretty severe penalties associated with the rules in place but since the drivers are now questioning it, it’s time for us to kind of re-evaluate our position and work with the community in looking at possible different ways to enforce the pit road rules.”
“The teams are obviously pushing harder than they ever have in this area,” he added. “It’s time for us to take a look at it. We’ll do that as an industry. The open dialogue is very good right now between NASCAR and the teams. We’ll work with them and work internally to move forward.”
Miller said he understands the concerns and that the sanctioning body is looking to re-examine reinforcement of the rule. He added that there is a serious penalty in place for “purposely mishandling the installation of tires”.
“It says a loss of wheels due to improper installation is a mandatory minimum four-race suspension of the crew chief, the tire changer and tire carrier of the lost wheel,” Miller said of the rules. “So that’s the penalty that would be imposed should a wheel actually come off.
“We do have the rules and they have served us well,” he added. “But obviously moving forward, the teams have become very aggressive with it. It’s been brought up as a concern and when any of our competitors raise a concern it’s time for us to take a little bit harder look at it.”