Tony Stewart vows he won’t change in wake of fine: ‘That’s $35,000 well invested’

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In his first public comments after being fined $35,000 by NASCAR, Tony Stewart vowed the punishment won’t change him.

“I understand what NASCAR is trying to do but I’m always going to speak my mind,” the three-time champion told Fox Sports before Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway. “And I don’t know what the key word or key phrase was that got me fined, but when it comes to safety, I’m not going to hold back. That’s $35,000 well invested if it makes it safer for these guys.”

Stewart was fined Thursday, mere hours after announcing his comeback this weekend after missing the first eight races with a fractured back.

On Wednesday, the driver-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing blasted NACAR for its decision to stop policing the fastening of five lug nuts on pit stops. Stewart said it was a safety hazard that needs to be addressed immediately.

NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller said Friday that the policy was under review.

During his prerace interview, Stewart hinted NASCAR already was changing its pit officiating.

“I think they are doing something different today with rules on trying to keep everybody … making sure we get enough lug nuts on the cars,” he said. “You just don’t want to be in a position where with 20 laps to go, and you’re leading the race and you haven’t won a race and you need that to get in the Chase, to have to make a decision as a driver whether to come in or whether ride it out and hope it stays.

“That’s not a good position for us to be in.”

According to NASCAR, there were no procedural changes to monitoring lug nuts Sunday.

Stewart said he felt his comments might have been misinterpreted.

“ I think some of the people at NASCAR took it the wrong way,” he said. “They’ve done an awesome job with safety, and this is one thing that we still need to look at.

“It wasn’t saying that they’re not doing their job. I just felt like this was one thing they dropped the ball on. They’re doing a good job, they’re looking at it, they’re going to address it and make it right and down the road we won’t have to worry about this again, hopefully.”

Stewart was in a joking mood with the Fox broadcast booth during the interview, particularly when asked if he’d be able to complete 400 laps.

“You are looking at the relief driver,” he said. “I’m not Darrell Waltrip. I want to stay in it the whole day.”