Felix Sabates: NASCAR ‘should have’ penalized Tony Stewart

(Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Felix Sabates, a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, said he agreed with comments Tony Stewart made last week about lug nut safety, but he believes NASCAR “should have” fined Stewart $35,000.

“The reason for that is, we all have to have a united front,” Sabates told reporters over the weekend at Richmond International Raceway, according to AutoWeek’s Matt Weaver. “You can’t have somebody shooting their mouth about this sport because it hurts with the sponsors.”

NASCAR fined Stewart the day he announced he would return to driving the No. 14 Chevrolet after missing the first eight races of the season because of a fractured back he sustained in an all-terrain vehicle accident in January. Soon after, the Drivers Council announced it would pay the fine for Stewart.

Sabates, 70, is a minority owner in Ganassi’s team. A native of Cuba, Sabates initially fielded an entry in NASCAR with Kyle Petty in the No. 42 beginning in 1989. He is also a confidant of NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, even buying a yacht from France in recent years.

According to Autoweek, Sabates was in attendance at just his second race this season after a “health scare” when he made his comments, which included predicting how Stewart would fare in his shortened, final season.

“You have one of the premier drivers, well he used to be anyway and now he’s an old guy,” Sabates said. “He’s a nice guy, and I love him to death, but Tony is not going to win anything. He’s old. And I’m old. I can’t do what I used to be able to do, so it got nothing to do with anything other than age. He’s been hurt.”

Stewart hasn’t won since June 2013 at Dover. A Ganassi-owned car hasn’t won a points race since the October 2013 race at Talladega.

“Anyway, he should have come back and not said anything,” Sabates said. “He should have gone to NASCAR and said to NASCAR, ‘Hey, I disagree,’ and by the way, I agree with him on that, too.

“I agree with him that we shouldn’t have some teams taking a risk only putting three or four lug nuts on. I think it should be five lug nuts, and if they’re not tight, you bring the car back in. So Tony is right. I agree with him. It’s a safety issue. He should have handled it a different way. So he got penalized $35,000, and he’s lucky he got the (Drivers Council) to pay it for him.”