Hours after announcing he was returning to the cockpit of the No. 14 car in the Sprint Cup Series, Tony Stewart was fined $35,000 by NASCAR for remarks deemed disparaging.
The comments are, ostensibly, the ones he made on Wednesday at a promotional appearance. Stewart said the absence of NASCAR's rule mandating teams tighten all five lug nuts on a wheel was a safety issue. There are no specifics in the NASCAR release regarding what comments led to the fine.
Stewart's fine falls under Section 12 of the rule book, specifically member conduct guidelines.
According to Section 12.8.1, actions that could result in a $10,000-$50,000 fine include disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR's leadership, or verbal abuse of a NASCAR Official, media members, fans, etc.
Here's part of what Stewart said about the rule. Before 2015, teams were forced to tighten all five lug nuts on a wheel. Now teams can tighten as many as they would like, though the decision comes with the risk of a wheel coming loose and falling off.
“I’m beyond mad, I’m P.O.’d at NASCAR about it, to be honest. 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 … ”
He also said this. Via NBC:
“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.”
It's not the first time Stewart has spoken out about NASCAR this year, though it's the first time he's been fined. Earlier this season he said he wanted to see NASCAR CEO Brian France at the track more often.
The fine is part of NASCAR's new penalty guidelines outlined before the season began. The sanctioning body has wanted to be more transparent when it came to driver fines and has said it would publicly penalize drivers who spoke out against the sport. Drivers had been previously given secret fines for comments about NASCAR.
Were Stewart's comments fine-worthy? While you can understand NASCAR taking offense to the language Stewart used to express his feelings, he was making a legitimate point. And you can also wonder if NASCAR is putting itself in a corner with the fine if it does decide to alter the existing lug nut rule in the future . It would take a serious bit of verbal gymnastics to justify a lug nut rule change (especially if it is for safety reasons) after it fined a driver for raising the issue of safety.
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