ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON APRIL 22, 2016
If NASCAR is all about safety, it has a strange and unapologetic way of showing it. The big moment that Tony Stewart announces he’s cleared to compete is now overshadowed. It’s as though the sanctioning body decided that the main story shouldn’t be about his return, but what they were going to do before he even stepped in the car.
For the last year and three months, the rule where teams are no longer required to have five lug nuts had to be on each hub has been removed.
Now, teams are going as far as not even putting five lug nuts on the wheels. Every bit of time they can save on pit stops has become critical. But, now it’s to the point where drivers are talking about it.
Drivers should be talking about it, because it’s they who are at the wheel.
If a driver doesn’t feel safe without all the lug nuts on the wheel, even if they aren’t totally tight, that is a point to make. Stewart has every right to make his point known, especially when he says the sanctioning body is putting “competition ahead of safety.” NASCAR did exactly that, because they are risking the safety of every driver when even one lug nut is not on the car.
The “police yourself” attitude in the pits has now become a way of cutting that tenth of a second in getting the old tire off and the new tire on.
So what does NASCAR do to remedy the concern…punish the one who brought it up, and not even the first one.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first to mention his thinking on not having all the lug nuts on the wheel, but he wasn’t even thought of to fine. Instead, when someone who officially says he’s cleared to drive, not to mention received a waiver from the same sanctioning body that he was critical of, then they put forth the punishment.
What this means is NASCAR’s safety concerns are truly being sacrificed for competition.
Would you feel safe if you went to have new tires put on the family vehicle, but the tire service center has a policy saying that “not all lug nuts need to be tight.” If that’s the case, when that family leaves the parking lot, there is a chance that one of those wheels could potentially come off going down the road. That vehicle then is involved in an accident and there’s injuries, or possibly death. Unfortunately, the party that could be blamed has the clause saying they don’t have to tighten all the lug nuts. That means that service center is not held liable, and any potential lawsuit is off the table.
Does that sound like putting safety first? Is getting more service done in a faster time better than doing the service right meaning less issues down the road?
Stewart has a very valid point in this situation, and he’s earned the right to voice his opinion. This is why drivers are able to voice their concerns; it means they want to put the safety of the sport on an equal level with competition. The teams that can show they are the best shouldn’t have to take a shortcut and put their driver at risk. That is what the lug nut rule is about, or at least was. It’s not saying all the lug nuts need to be tight, but need to be on the hub.
Drivers should be able to say they are worried if a rule is either good or bad. When teams began exploiting the side skirt rule in 2014, leading to cars that had a look of having the sheet metal looking like wings, and resulting in cut tires at critical moments, NASCAR did something about it.
Even unintentionally if those aerodynamics are compromised, NASCAR makes the team fix it.
So why won’t they do the same with this lug nut rule? This is a major issue that seems to have been put aside for the sake of faster pit stops and better track position. Rather than address it, make changes for the sake of safety, instead NASCAR decides to use the new conduct policy to punish someone who’s not competed yet this season, and ruin what was to be a grand return to the track.
Being penalized for showing concern has given the impression that NASCAR lacks concern. That ultimately will be costly down the road.