Tony Stewart thinks teams putting less than five lug nuts on a wheel is a safety issue.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion spoke out against the absence of NASCAR's lug nut rule. The sanctioning body removed the requirement that teams had to have all five lug nuts fastened on each wheel before the 2015 season. Without a lug nut requirement, teams have been putting fewer than five lugnuts on in some cases in an effort to have faster pit stops.
Subsequently, the lack of five lug nuts being fastened has contributed to a lot more loose wheels, forcing teams to pit again. Those second pit stops end up taking away all of the fractions of a second teams gain on pit road by fastening fewer than five lugs. If you watched Sunday's race at Bristol (and the previous race at Texas), it was hard to miss all the teams forced to come back to pit road because of loose wheels.
Without the all five rule in place, Stewart said it's only a matter of time until a loose wheel results in something with more consequences than a second pit stop. From NBC Sports:
“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 … ”
You can certainly see Stewart's point. Teams are going to exploit anything they can for the sake of speed. But at the same time, teams themselves aren't entirely blameless either. You can say that you were incentivized to do something in the name of competition, but the point that you did that thing still stands.
And while teams are playing it safe on the track after a loose wheel now, it doesn't take much of a leap to believe that conservatism would change in the Chase. If a team had a loose wheel late in a race and was clinging to the hope of Chase advancement, would it stay on the track and risk a crash or come to pit road and all but quash its Chase hopes?
The disappearance of the lug nut rule also coincided with the use of NASCAR's pit road cameras. The cameras, mounted to face each pit stall from the front stretch, are used by NASCAR officials in a trailer to officiate all pit stops. The system replaced officials stationed on pit road who watched for violations.
But while officials on pit road could see both sides of a car, the camera only sees one side. If NASCAR was to reinstitute the lug nut rule, tweaks would have to be made to the current officiating system to watch for violations.
Oh, and one more thing. Loose wheels are a safety issue, as Stewart said. Which is why it makes the disappearance of the rule a bit hypocritical by NASCAR, a sport that has touted its safety advancements over the past 15 years.
However, it's fair to say that many of the safety advancements in NASCAR have been reactionary rather than proactive like the proliferation of SAFER barriers or mandated head and neck restraints and throttle kill switches. Unless NASCAR is suddenly moved by Stewart's words and/or the rash of loose wheels throughout 2016, it could take a major incident for the lug nut rule to come back.
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