Tony Stewart didn’t back down Sunday from the statements that got him fined $35,000 last week by NASCAR.
“I’m always going to speak my mind,” Stewart told Fox before he finished 19th in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Speedway.
NASCAR fined Stewart last week after he was critical of a recent policy that doesn’t require all five lug nuts to be replaced during pit stops. Stewart said drivers’ safety was being compromised if fewer than five lug nuts are put back on for the sake of a faster pit stop.
“I don’t know what the key word or key phrase was that got me fined,” Stewart said. “But when it comes to safety, I’m not going to hold back. That’s $35,000 well-invested if it makes it safer for these guys.”
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On Friday, senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said NASCAR will re-examine how the lug-nut rule is enforced, which Stewart acknowledged.
“I think they’re (NASCAR) doing something different today with rules on … making sure we get enough lug nuts on the cars,” Stewart said. “You just don’t want to be in a position where, with 20 laps to go and you’re leading the race and you haven’t won a race and you need that to get in the Chase, to have to make a decision as a driver whether to come in or whether to ride down and hope it stays – that’s not a good position for us to be in.”
Stewart, who returned to racing Sunday after missing the first eight races of the season with a broken back from a non-racing accident, was backed by NASCAR’s drivers council. Members of the nine-driver council (of which Stewart is a member) offered to help Stewart pay the fine.
“I think some of the people at NASCAR took it the wrong way,” Stewart said. “They’ve done an awesome job with safety, and this is one thing we still need to look at. It wasn’t saying they’re not doing their job. I just felt like this is one thing they dropped the ball on.
“So, they’re doing a good job. They’re looking at it. They’re going to address it and make it right, and down the road, we won’t have to worry about this again, hopefully.”
Stewart said he felt fine after Sunday’s race, his first since breaking his back in January in a dune-buggy accident. He will start next week’s race at the physically challenging Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, then give way to Ty Dillon, who split time with Brian Vickers in the No. 14 Chevy while Stewart was out. Stewart plans to run the entirety of each race for the rest of the season, beginning at Kansas in two weeks.
“Line them up again and let’s run another, make it 800 laps,” Stewart said after Sunday’s race. “I’ll run 800 laps right now and not have a problem. There will be a bunch of these guys falling out of the seat if they had to run 800 more laps, but I will not be one of them.”
NASCAR granted Stewart a medical waiver so he can be eligible to qualify for the postseason Chase. To do that, he will have to win a race and finish in the top 30 in the points standings. After his first race, Stewart sits in the 40th spot, 101 points behind 30th-place Matt DiBenedetto.