By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
One of the least safe options that teams have been able to employ in the history of NASCAR is officially off the table.
Monday, NASCAR banned teams from sending their cars out onto the racetrack with less than five lug nuts per wheel, and every lug nut is now required to be tight. This comes on the heels of three-time Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart calling out the sanctioning body less than a week ago for their unsafe practice of allowing teams to skip lug nuts in order to increase the speed of pit stops.
“I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt,” Stewart said last week. “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.”
For those comments, Stewart was fined $35,000. According to NASCAR’s Brian France on Sirius XM NASCAR radio, the monetary penalty will stay in effect for Stewart, despite the quick change of heart on the rule book. NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition, Scott Miller sent out a statement to help with damage control on the lug nut rule change Monday.
“NASCAR has been closely monitoring the aggressive strategies on pit road,” said Miller. “Safety is an area we do not take lightly, as our record has clearly indicated. It’s important for us to have a system in place immediately for addressing lug nut installation, while we also work alongside the industry to develop the best long-term solution.”
But if NASCAR really was ‘monitoring the aggressive strategies on pit road,’ they would have seen that since last year several drivers have been put in harm’s way by being on track with sometimes as few as three lug nuts holding a tire on at 200 miles-per-hour. What changed so drastically in the past week that made NASCAR stand up and take action? It’s obvious: Absolutely nothing except Stewart’s comments.
You can tell me that NASCAR puts safety at the highest priority all you want, the fact that they let teams push the envelope as far and as long as they did on this matter would suggest the complete opposite. NASCAR loved adding one extra strategic call to help spice up pit road, but things were heading in a perilous place.
Week after week, driver after driver would relinquish their position on pit road due to a severe vibration because not enough lug nuts were tight on their wheels.
Thankfully no NASCAR driver has been killed on track since we lost the legendary Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Since that day, the sport which ignored safety for years, finally took a stand and began to improve things. Now seemingly as the years go on since Earnhardt’s tragic crash at Daytona, the sanctioning body continues to dip it’s toes in deeper unsafe waters.
I for one am glad the lug nut rule has been changed. And I believe instead of being fined, Stewart should be rewarded for helping the sanctioning body protect it’s number one asset, the drivers.
Image: Matthew Bishop