DENVER, N.C. – Tony Stewart blasted NASCAR’s lack of policing pit stops for missing lug nuts, saying the sanctioning body needed to step in before a driver got hurt.
“I’m beyond mad, I’m P.O.’d at NASCAR about it, to be honest,” Stewart said Wednesday during an event to promote sponsor Mobil 1’s green initiatives. “For all the work and everything, all the bulletins and all the new stuff we have to do to superspeedway cars and all these other things they want us to do for safety, we can’t even make sure we put five lug nuts on the wheel.
“It’s not even mandatory anymore. I mean, you don’t have to have but one on there if you don’t want. It’s however many you think you can get away with. So we’re putting the drivers in jeopardy to get track position. It’s not bit anybody yet, but I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt. 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 … ”
NASCAR stopped officiating missing lug nuts last year, and teams increasingly have been pushing the envelope by skipping lug nuts, often fastening fewer than the maximum five during a stop to gain position. Some teams reportedly are gaining nearly a half-second during stops.
But it’s resulted in a rash of loose wheels the past two races at Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 4 Chevrolet of Stewart’s teammate, Kevin Harvick, said Wednesday morning on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel that the practice could put drivers and fans at risk.
Stewart said NASCAR “absolutely” needed to step in and address the situation.
“If you only want us to put one lug nut on, then give us hubs that have one lug nut like an IndyCar or Formula One car and then we don’t have to worry about it,” he 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.
“When they made the decision they weren’t going to monitor it, that was the big decision they made right off the bat. When you preach about safety, why would you sit there and have cars that are running 200 mph at the end of the straightaway that don’t have all the lug nuts on the wheel that should be on it? If they want to design a new hub that has three lug nuts or one lug nut, that’s fine. But make sure it’s safe and make sure it’s the same for everybody. We shouldn’t be playing games with safety to win races. It should be out-performing the other teams, not jeopardizing drivers’ lives by teams putting two lug nuts on to try to get two more spots off pit road.”
NASCAR changed the officiating procedures when it went to a more technological process for officiating pit road that used HD cameras and resulted in a couple dozen officials being removed from the pits during the race.
With less manpower to monitor stalls, it might be difficult for NASCAR to revert to its old style of officiating lug nuts. But Stewart said that’s NACSAR’s problem.
“We didn’t make the change to begin with,” he said. ”It’s not our responsibility. That’s their responsibility. We did it for how many years in the sport? Sixty-plus years? And now in the last two years now we don’t have to do that.
“Last year it started; this year you see the problem getting worse. Well if you see a problem getting worse like that, where’s the bottom of that trend going to happen? It’s going to happen when somebody gets hurt, and that’s going to be one of the largest black eyes I can see NASCAR getting when they’ve worked so hard and done such a good job to make it safe. In this one particular area, they are totally dropping the ball on and I feel like really made a grossly bad decision on.”