Stewart was critical of NASCAR’s 2016 decision not to regulate the number of lug nuts installed on each wheel again this season, questioning the sanctioning body’s devotion to safety. France responded with a $35,000 fine, saying “when you imply that NASCAR doesn’t care about safety, you can expect a reaction from us.” NASCAR then changed the rules, mandating five secure lugs on each wheel, at all times.
Stewart said Friday that he remains confused by the penalty, saying, “I’ve been trying to figure out how many more $35,000 rules changes I want to make. I’m glad that something has been done. (NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition) Scott Miller is a huge asset to NASCAR right now. And from what I understand, he’s the one who spearheaded getting something done. You hate to have to pay $35,000 to get somebody’s attention to do something, but apparently, that’s what it took.
“I’ve got questions that I’d like to have answers to,” Stewart said. “I’m still wondering why I’m paying a $35,000 fine for something that got changed three days later. But it is what it is.”
Stewart thanked his fellow members of the Drivers’ Council for offering to pay his fine, saying, “That’s something I’m really proud of with this Driver Council; how the drivers are united about everything we’re doing. This was the first time something had happened where somebody on the Council got a penalty for speaking an opinion, and for them to show that kind of support and show that we’re all one unit; that’s something that you don’t normally see… in this sport. This is the first time we’ve seen public support like that, and I think it went a long way.
“That is why the driver council was started,” said Stewart, “to give us a collective voice. The hard part -- and the scenario that NASCAR doesn’t want to (and can’t) get into -- (is what) we saw with the CART years ago. Everybody is going to have an opinion about what to do, (and) most of the time it’s something that is going to benefit themselves.
“So, to have a Driver Council where you have drivers from all three manufacturers and different teams and organizations having a unified voice -- everybody saying the same thing -- it’s validation to NASCAR that this isn’t about one individual group, and what we want to help ourselves. It’s what we think as a group is best for everybody. That is why it’s so important to have this started.”
Interestingly, France criticized Stewart this week, saying that despite his status as a member of both the Drivers Council and Race Team Alliance, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion never expressed any safety concerns to NASCAR.
Stewart countered, saying, “I just got Brain France’s number yesterday. I’m happy I’ve got that now. I might call him at midnight to see if I can get ahold of him, just because I’m up at that hour. He will probably call me back at six in the morning to see if I’m up, which won’t work very well for me.
“We do have those conversations, but sometimes I think the sense of urgency and the sense of `this really is an issue’ sometimes gets numbed with everything else that is going on. That was (the case) with the lug nuts. It was getting worse, not better. Sometimes you’ve got to shake (NASCAR).
“Apparently, I shook too hard.