NASCAR Created the Lug Nut Problem, They Should Fix It

At the end of the 2014 Sprint Cup season NASCAR made a decision on lug nuts

and looking back now from this point of the 2016 season, obviously it was a bad

one. For all the years I have been a NASCAR fan there was never a question that

lug nuts be on each wheel and tightened properly. NASCAR officials policed the

teams and if a team was found to be out of compliance they were forced to come

in and fix the problem to NASCAR’s satisfaction. The penalty of the violation was

in having to comply with the loss of track position and in some cases, laps and

even the race win. So teams were extra careful to complete the job right the first

time. Teams even starting gluing the lugs to the wheel before being placed on the

hub assembly to assure they got the correct number of lugs properly installed on

the wheel. The safety of the driver, crew members and spectators was never at

question.

DOVER, DE - MAY 15: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 AAA Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, come in for pit stops during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway on May 15, 2016 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Enter NASCAR’s (PRO) Pit Road Officiating System that utilized pit road cameras

to regulate pit road infractions. NASCAR stopped requiring teams to put all five

lug nuts on the wheel and reduced its officiating force. With officials no longer

monitoring the pit boxes, NASCAR left it up to the teams as to whether they

would put all five lugnuts on the wheel or not. Did they at any time think what

was in the can of worms they were opening and what might crawl out? NASCAR

created this problem and it is a big one! For over 50 years it was black and white

now they had opened the door and the grey area has been entered. This is racing

and the name of the game is winning and doing whatever it takes to win. Did

NASCAR really think that lug nuts would not become a bargaining chip that could

bring that elusive win or much needed track position when nothing else was

working. Why create a problem where there had been none before?

NASCAR broke their own rules by disparaging the sport. Even with the outcry

from fans and drivers at the time they went ahead and put drivers, teams and

spectators at risk. After a year of testing the waters, teams became adept to

pushing the line as far as possible. With obvious manipulation of the rules by

some teams the safety issue came to the forefront when several instances of

loose wheels were found during race conditions and after the race.

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With safety becoming a real problem the outspoken driver and team owner, Tony

Stewart stepped up and spoke up about the severity of the problem.

NASCAR about it, to be honest, Stewart said. For all the work and everything

and all the bulletins and all the new stuff that we have to do to superspeedway

cars and all these other things that they want us to do for safety, but they can't

even make sure that we put five lug nuts on the wheel. It’s not even mandatory

anymore. It used to be mandatory. Now all the sudden, it’s a smart thing to not

dictate. ; I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until

somebody gets hurt”; Stewart said. .this is not a game you play with safety and

that’s exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do

this. Stewart had complete support of the fans and the Driver Council but was

quickly fined $35,000 for speaking out against NASCAR. In my opinion he should

have been commended for having the fortitude to speak up when others had

remained silent while the problem continued to get worse and more risks were

taken. Even though the Driver Council stood behind Stewart in support and

offered to pay the fine and the penalty was appealed, NASCAR stood firm on the

fine saying it was detrimental to NASCAR. Although they viewed Stewarts

comments as detrimental they almost immediately changed the rule by instating

somewhat tougher standards and penalties.

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NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said in a statement.

“Safety is an area we do not take lightly, as our record has clearly indicated. It's

important for us to have a system in place immediately for addressing lug nut

installation”; In my opinion turning over the policing of lug nuts to the teams

tarnished their record on safety and my question was why did it become

immediately important after Stewart spoke out and not important when the

teams were taking unnecessary risks and pushing limits to gain track position I

think NASCAR knew the severity of their decision all along but wasn’t willing to

make the needed changes to fix the problem until Stewart spoke out. Then they

needed to cover their butt so to say, so at Stewart’s expense for speaking out

about the problem they were forced to do something or look like they didn’t care

about this serious safety issue. Stewart’s comments were not detrimental to the

sport of NASCAR, just the opposite. It only forced NASCAR’s hand and they didn’t

like it, thus the fine was issued. Once their hand was forced they had to address

the problem amid overwhelming media coverage and fan outcry so they did what

they do best, make rules changes and institute fines. Doing nothing to actually fix

the problem. Lugs were still left loose during the race when a second could be

gained by not fully tightening them down.

The change essentially allowed NASCAR to inspect for compliance at any time

during an event. If an infraction was found pre-race, it would count as an

unapproved adjustment and the team would have to start at the tail end of the

field. Additionally, the team must make an immediate correction. Tires intended

for race use without all five lug nuts glued to the wheel would result in a written

warning and would need to be corrected immediately. If an infraction was found

post-race, the first offense would be a minimum $20,000 fine and one-race

suspension and probation for the crew chief. As a race fan and student of the

sport I was glad to see NASCAR finally addressing the problem but these penalties

seemed severe while doing nothing to really ensure safety. Teams were still able

to manipulate lug nuts during pit stops and gamble to gain time. Checking lug nuts

before the race was ineffective because teams would always have the wheels fully

secured to the car going through inspection and starting the race because nothing

was to be gained. Inspections after the race only checks for missing lugnuts and

not for ones left loose or improperly attached so safety is not assured there.

Unless there is an obvious malfunction of the impact wrench or problems with the

tire changer that shows up on a pit road camera teams are not challenged during

the race to check lugs, teams were left to police themselves. As much as NASCAR

says safety is the number one priority they still refuse to force compliance in this

area by policing each team to assure the wheels are secured to the car properly

on each stop. To assure the safety they say is number one priority.

If NASCAR does not want to put an official back in each pit stall they need to

search out an option in the world of technology that will assure there is no

question the rules are being followed. They require safety issues be met by teams

and by track owners where concerns have risen, no matter the monetary

hardships placed on them. If you play with NASCAR, you will play their game but

when it comes to money being spent on the NASCAR side they are not so quick to

act. To send a car out to run under high speed racing conditions with the wheels

improperly attached to the car is negligent on the part of the sanctioning body.

I understand a fine for finding a car post-race with missing lugnuts but don’t agree

that that in itself constitutes the suspension of the crew chief. The tire changer is

responsible for securing the wheels. It is his job to make sure that before the car

leaves the pits that each wheel is properly tight and safe for high speed. He

should be the one receiving any suspension warranted especially on a first

offense. In the case of further violations increased fines and suspension of crew

chief could be considered. If at any time a team is found to intentionally be

improperly tightening lugnuts or not installing the required five that would call for

suspension of crew chief and a loss of points.

At least 5 crew chiefs have been suspended this season. Two of which were the

SHR teams of Kurt Busch and most recently Kevin Harvick. So Tony Stewart has

paid dearly for speaking up and standing up for the safety of the drivers and the

spectators. When asked this week if he regretted speaking up about the safety

concern Stewart said, “Absolutely not!” Because of Stewart, teams are being

more vigilant in getting the lugnuts tight and not openly leaving them off but even

with all his effort this does not assure teams of not gambling on how far they can

go and at times risking the safety of the drivers for track position.

NASCAR created a problem where there wasn’t one for over 50 years and now

they need to find an effective way to fix it.

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