NASCAR fined Tony Stewart $35,000 Thursday for violating conduct guidelines in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rule Book. Earlier in the week Stewart had criticized the sanctioning body for net enforcing a rule that requires crewmembers to put all five lug nuts on a wheel during a pit stop. 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. During a media event Wednesday Stewart, who has been vocal about NASCAR in the past, was critical of the practice of NASCAR not enforcing the practice of ensuing all five lug nuts are on the wheel this year.
“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. On the same day the comments were made, the Observer reported that NASCAR would look at the rule.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said prior to Stewart’s comments, that teams should be able to figure out the right thing to do.
“We’ve got our competition meeting monthly where we meet with the teams and raise any issues that they see as something we’ve got to address,” O’Donnell said on Sirius XM radio. “In our minds, we put that back on the teams. We’re seeing it correct itself in the race. It’s certainly not an advantage when you have to come in and pit the car. But we’ll bring it up in the next competition meeting and see if there’s anything we can do to fix it.”
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. 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.”
The Drivers Council was formed last year and meets periodically with NASCAR to discuss various issues from competition to safety. It added Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch this year to a group that included returning members Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
The news came on the same day that Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Stewart has 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. NASCAR later announced that Stewart has been granted a waiver that will allow his eligibly to make the Chase.