Don’t feel sorry for crew chiefs suspended for lug nut issues
After some time off over the Father’s Day weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action Sunday for its first road course race of the season at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. And after 15 races into the 2016 Sprint Cup season, lug nuts are still a hot topic.
This whole lug nut issue just goes to show, you can never please everybody. Before NASCAR went back to mandating five tight lug nuts on each wheel, there was an outcry that the act of installing fewer than five was a safety issue, but teams were doing it anyway to speed up pit stops.
So, NASCAR answered by going back to mandating five tight lug nuts. There was a catch, though. With the new PRO (pit road officiating) system, officials only could monitor one side of the car. As a result, NASCAR, primarily, just checks lug nuts post-race. Well, if something’s a rule, there should be a penalty for breaking that rule, right? So, NASCAR set a precedent by suspending crew chiefs and, sometimes, other crew members. After all, after a race, it’s too late to bring a car back down pit road for a pass-through or stop-and-go penalty.
Now, there are outcries that suspension is too harsh a penalty. I agree that a suspension is rather harsh, but, if you break the rule, you have to pay the price. Think the price his too high? Then, don’t break the rule. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
I understand that, for the most part, these lug nut violations are results of human error, but they’re miscues, just the same. I’m sure that a few of those failed post race inspections are results of human error, too, but often they result in penalties. Those penalties may not be suspensions, but they’re still penalties for human error.
Besides, I’m guessing pit crew members realize when they don’t get lug nuts tight. Don’t want to be penalized? Come back to pit road and fix the problem. Yes, I get it; the extra pit stop could take a team out of contention for a win. But it’s up to the team to decide between a good finish, possibly a win, or a crew chief suspension. It’s up to a crew chief and team to make that decision. The penalty is what it is; deal with it. Besides, is a crew chief suspension that big of a deal? Crew chiefs may not be at the track while suspended, but they’re in near-constant contact with their teams. Heck, Kurt Busch won earlier this year without regular crew chief, Tony Gibson, atop the pit stop. And after the race, Busch acknowledged that Gibson kept contact with the team and was a big part of the win. Maybe these crew chief suspensions aren’t as big of a penalty as we’re making them out to be, anyway.
This whole lug nut/crew chief suspension issue doesn’t seem to be a problem for NASCAR’s other two national series — Xfinity and Camping World Truck. No Xfinity team has seen its crew chief suspended for a lug nut issue this year, and it’s only happened once in the Truck Series. Those two series seem to manage to consistently get five lug nuts tight on each wheel, at least on the last pit stop, so obviously, it can be done.