The inconsistency which NASCAR has recently shown with lost wheels is mind-boggling, and it is a completely avoidable issue.
NASCAR announced on Wednesday that they have penalized the #2 Team Penske team for a lost wheel on Austin Cindric’s #2 Ford during this past Sunday afternoon’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Shortly after Cindric left his pit stall during the stage two break of the 301-lap race around the four-turn, 1.058-mile (1.703-kilometer) oval in Loudon, New Hampshire, the left front wheel detached from his car and rolled down the pits.
This is a violation of NASCAR Rule Book Sections 220.127.116.11 and 10.5.2.6, relating to the loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle.
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins, front tire changer Curtis Thompson, and jackman Patrick Gray have each been suspended four races as a result of the infraction.
They will each be eligible to return for the Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, August 21.
While a completely logical decision, given all of the other suspensions that have been issued due to lost wheels to begin the new single lug nut, Next Gen era, NASCAR drew criticism for making it — and justifiably so.
Why? Because the #20 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell also lost a wheel in the pits during the previous Sunday afternoon’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and yet no suspensions were handed out as a result of it.
On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio two days after this race, Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, explained why this decision was made.
"“That’s always a hard call for us, right? We’re still we’re continuing to look at that incident, and really the potential consequence for the wheel rolling down pit road. Now if that thing would have been going twice as fast as it was, we would have had a whole field on pit road, we may view that different than we did with hardly any cars on pit road, no speed to the tire, and it not getting away very far. So we always have a very difficult job sorting through what crosses the line and what doesn’t, and we’re still working through that on that particular case.”"
What is such a hard call about calling what has been called in every other instance in 2022?
This past Tuesday, also on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s vice president of officiating and technical inspection, explained why Cindric’s team was penalized and Bell’s wasn’t.
"“The amount of speed that the tire is carrying down pit road, did it impede another competitor — all of those things go into the decision-making and obviously the distance that one tire traveled on pit road, the 20 car versus what the 2 car was significantly different.“So although the optics are a loss of wheel on pit road, the two scenarios are quite a bit different. We’ll continue to dissect that and look at it. Again, we don’t want to over-officiate, but tires coming off is a huge safety concern and we just have to make sure that we’re handling that correctly. So we’ll continue to have dialogue internally … but they are two different situations for sure.”"
“Significantly different” seems like another way of avoiding responsibility for completing screwing up the call on Bell’s team, considering the fact that, while all of the instances of a lost wheel this season have been similar, they have all been different in some way, shape, or form.
Who is to say what is too much speed? Who is to say how much it impeded another driver?
There have been several other instances this season where the subjective argument could be made that there was no immediate danger to anybody when the wheel came off, yet those instances also resulted in four-race suspensions behind issued to multiple crew members.
The best part about it? In every other situation this season, if you saw a wheel detach from a car, you knew the four-race suspensions were coming, beyond any shadow of a doubt.
That is, until a few weeks ago.
Since when are these other factors suddenly taken into account? What is the formula for determining what’s safe and what’s not safe?
By unnecessarily opening up this gray area, NASCAR has done what many believe they do best, and that is set themselves up for inconsistency.
It didn’t take long for them to get there, continuing a consistent trend of being inconsistent.
It is a completely unavoidable issue, and if it is indeed such a “safety concern”, the rules need to be applied consistently, and everybody needs to be informed about what is okay and what isn’t.