Last year NA$CAR announced that they were no longer going to enforce any kind of rule regarding lug nuts on wheels. No longer would an inspector be located in each pit assuring that each wheel on the car had all five lug nuts properly tightened, but that it would be left to the discretion of the team.
What they did not say was that this was a cost cutting move, eliminating 43 officials who are located in the pits. All pit rules are now enforced by television remote, and the camera cannot see the wheels, so they decided to hell with the lug nut rule.
The result should have been predictable. Cars were returning to the track after a pit stop with as few as three lug nuts on some wheels, and not all of them tight. Wheels were wobbling and vibrating; doing everything, in fact, except coming slap off the car. Nobody quite dared say anything, because criticizing NA$CAR gets you a fine of up to $50,000, and can get you suspended.
No penalty for losing a wheel and wrecking the field, but badmouth NA$CAR and…
Anyway, along comes Tony Stewart who has missed the first part of the season due to a preseason injury and is sort of a modern day A.J. Foyt. (Foyt: “Hell, if we’re going to race taxicabs, we ought to get a bunch of damned taxicab drivers to drive them.”) Tony says that not using five lug nuts and tightening all five of them is dangerous (well, duh), and that NA$CAR was not only wrong to quit enforcing that rule, but was neglecting the safety of drivers when they did so.
NA$CAR responds with a $35,000 fine and says that “driver safety is our first priority,” and then contradicts the validity of both the fine and the claim by changing the policy and ruling that any car having one or more loose lug nuts on any wheel at the conclusion of the race will be penalized by the loss of a finishing position. Nobody points out that that means they can leave lug nuts loose on all pit stops except the last one, including Tony Stewart who is already out $35,000.
The lug nut issue became even more, pardon the pun, “nuts” in the All Star race last night when, after each pit stop and after all the cars had returned to the track, NA$CAR called all of the cars back into the pits and lined them up so that officials could visually inspect that they had five lug nuts on each wheel and that all lug nuts were touching the wheel. Matt Kenseth observed that it was much like the NFL interrupting a football game to check the players' shoe laces.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was overheard to comment that “This race reminds me of the first time that I tried to fly a remote controlled helicopter. I didn’t know what the hell was going on then, either.” I feel you, Junior.