When NASCAR rolled out its new PRO (pit road officiating) system in its three national touring series at the start of the 2015 race season, one of the casualties was the rule mandating five tight lug nuts on each wheel. The disappearance of that rule wasn’t much of an issue last season, but this year, teams are pushing the envelope to the uneasiness of some competitors and fans.
I think Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin was the one last season who stated that drivers couldn’t be relied on to police themselves when it came to a restart controversy/debacle late last season. Apparently, the same mindset can be applied to race teams.
Indirectly NASCAR is officiating a loose wheel issue with a rule that calls for $50,000 fines and crew chief suspensions for wheels coming off race cars as a result of fewer than five lug nuts being in place and tight on said wheels.
But by the time a wheel comes off, will it be too late? I’ve heard the argument that in the 60+ years that NASCAR’s been around nobody’s been injured by a wheel coming off a race car, yet. Well, that’s because instances of wheels coming off of race cars has been a rare occurrence throughout NASCAR history. That’s another argument I’ve heard. But the reason it’s been rare is because not until recently did teams have the freedom to tighten fewer lug nuts.
At least some drivers are uncomfortable with the idea of running around race tracks at speed with fewer than five lug nuts tight on each wheel. NASCAR’s most popular driver several times over, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has publicly said that he’s freaked out by it. Then, on Wednesday, Tony Stewart kind of gave NASCAR somewhat of a tongue-lashing over the disappearance of the five lug nut mandate.
Rodney Childers, crew chief of 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio recently that his crew is still gluing up and tightening all five lug nuts on all four of Harvick’s wheels on every pit stop, but at least some other teams are playing the game differently.
Even some of the teams that are going with four, or even three, lug nuts on each wheel claim that they’re uncomfortable doing it, but are doing it anyway, because that’s the nature of the game these days and there’s too much ground to be lost to teams only putting on four lug nuts.
This latest phenomenon has been somewhat self-policing, as several teams, as of late, have had issues with loose wheels, and as a result, have had to make extra, unscheduled pit stops, putting them behind the proverbial 8-ball. But, apparently, the move works sometimes and teams get away with it. If not, why would they continue to do it?
Should the game come ahead of safety? I don’t think so. Yeah, I get it; racing’s a dangerous sport, but should we be making it even more dangerous just because it’s hard to see how many lug nuts are being tightened when officiating with the PRO system?
I’m normally not big on over-regulating things. I think rules can go too far, but not in the name of safety, especially when it comes to something this big. I think Hamlin was probably right; drivers (and in this case, race teams), apparently, can’t be depended upon to police themselves. I think this is one of those occasions where NASCAR should step in.
Okay, I get it; the PRO system can’t see the right side of the car, so therefore, it can’t, in its current form, detect whether or not five lug nuts are tightened on each of the right-side tires.
Should officials go back out on pit road? Maybe. Is there any kind of technology that would enable officials, from their PRO trailer, monitor tire changers on both sides of the car? If so, NASCAR should look into it. Something sure needs to be done, and soon.
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