NASCAR Basically Slapped Tony Stewart In The Face This Week

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

In life we are all wrong at one point or another. You, me, NASCAR, it doesn’t matter because everyone makes mistakes. That being said, it’s how you handle those mistakes that speaks the loudest.

Last week three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart made a choice. Stewart who was unhappy about the lug nut rule in NASCAR decided to voice his displeasure over it in a public forum. During an event to promote sponsor Mobil 1’s green initiatives Stewart decided to let the NASCAR world know how he feels about NASCAR not regulating five lug nuts per tire.

"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."

As one might have guessed, NASCAR did not take the comments in stride and the result was a fine. On the same day the Stewart announced his return to NASCAR, it was announced that Stewart would be fined $35,000 for his comments. Later in the day the drivers council stepped up and said they would pay the fine as they believed that Stewart was not in the wrong. On Monday NASCAR Chairman Brian France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio why Stewart was fined.

"Tony has been very aware of how we approach from a criticism standpoint of the sport and the product of the racing itself and safety is paramount. Tony is very aware of how we look at that.’I think we have to make judgment calls and how we look at the tone of what someone says, how they’re saying it. They have ample opportunities, particularly with safety, to deal with us directly on that. But to insinuate that we’re taking the sport down a road that doesn’t care about safety or we’re trying to hurt people, those kind of comments, that goes to the integrity of the sport and we’ll have to deal with that. We go way beyond what any other league would allow in terms of how far people can go in voicing their view.There’s just a little line out there that is a bright line and everybody is aware of. Every once in a while we’ll have a driver or somebody else that gets over that line and we’ll just have to deal with it. It’s not a big thing. We deal with it. They understand it and we move on. That’s how it goes."

Now let’s be honest, this all sounds well and good if this is where it had ended. Stewart spoke poorly of NASCAR in a public forum and NASCAR defended the brand and fined Stewart, case closed. However, this is not where it ends because later on Monday NASCAR went back on the lug net rule, making it mandatory for all five lugs to be on every wheel once again.

So, last week Stewart calls out NASCAR for an issue and less than one week later NASCAR changes the rule? If that was the end of the story it would seem like NASCAR’s governing body has a tremendous relationship with their athletes. An athlete expressed a true safety concern and in less than a week a change was made. The only issue (and it’s a big issue) is that NASCAR kept Stewart’s $35,000 find intact.

France says in one breath that Stewart’s tone and the way he was saying his comments were worthy of a fine but in the next instance NASCAR changes the thing Stewart was complaining about. NASCAR is basically saying that Stewart was right in everything that he said (which is why we fixed the rule) but we don’t like that he told everyone that we were wrong, so he needs to be punished for it.

NASCAR more or less slapped Stewart across the face this week and it’s a complete joke.

NASCAR is often critiqued for the way that they handle things and this situation was perfect for them to handle something in the right way. NASCAR should have embraced Stewart (and some of the other drivers) for passionately addressing a true safety concern. NASCAR could have come out and said that they spoke with Stewart and others and together they decided the best course was to adjust the rule. Slapping Stewart with a fine and then still changing the rule is simply bad business.

More racing: NASCAR: Five Tracks That Should Consider A Switch From Days To Nights Or Vice Versa

It’s great that NASCAR got it right in the end, but it’s a shame that they could not figure out the correct path to get there. Stewart deserved better here and this is another example where NASCAR had a chance to be on the same plane with the drivers and they decided not to.