Scott Says

Why NASCAR was wrong to fine Tony Stewart

Racecar driver Tony Stewart was fined $35,000 by NASCAR for speaking his mind about lug nuts. Other top drivers have decided to help pay Stewart’s fine.
Racecar driver Tony Stewart was fined $35,000 by NASCAR for speaking his mind about lug nuts. Other top drivers have decided to help pay Stewart’s fine. Getty Images

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could run your life like NASCAR runs itself?

If someone says something you don’t like about you, just fine them. No criticism allowed. No freedom of speech granted – not unless they’re saying something nice about you, that is, in which case let them talk all they want.

NASCAR was way too easily offended and thin-skinned in fining Tony Stewart $35,000 for saying something he didn’t like about lug nuts. It was also a very short-sighted move, because Stewart’s original comments have received far more publicity than they ever would have otherwise. Now the whole issue has snowballed into a “Drivers vs. NASCAR” narrative that is 10 times worse than the original thing Stewart said.

In case you missed it – and most everyone outside the insular NASCAR world did – at a sponsor event on Wednesday, Stewart criticized NASCAR abandoning a rule that once required a wheel to have all five lug nuts fastened. To cut corners and shave time off pit stops, teams are often now fastening just three or four lug nuts in races. Stewart ominously predicted very bad things could happen if that shortcut caused a wheel to fly off a car.

“You see the problem getting worse,” he said. “Well if you see a problem getting worse like that, where’s the bottom of that trend going to happen? It’s going to happen when somebody gets hurt, and that’s going to be one of the largest black eyes I can see NASCAR getting when they’ve worked so hard and done such a good job to make it safe. In this one particular area, they are totally dropping the ball on and I feel like really made a grossly bad decision on.”

NASCAR stepped in and fined Stewart $35,000 for a violation for Section 12 of its rule book, which reads in part “actions that could result in a $10,000-$50,000 fine include disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR’s leadership.”

Honesty, in the other words, is not the best policy.

The Drivers Council – made up of many of the most well-known drivers in the sport – then on Thursday night released a statement to NBC Sports saying: “We as drivers believe Tony has the right to speak his opinion on topics that pertain to a sport that he has spent nearly two decades helping build as both a driver and an owner. While we do not condone drivers lashing out freely at NASCAR, we do feel Tony was in his rights to state his opinion. We as a Council support him and do not agree with the fine. Therefore, we fellow council members have agreed to contribute equally to paying his fine.”

Take that, NASCAR! I couldn’t have said it better. I am totally with the drivers on this one.

NASCAR’s next best move is an easy one: Retreat! Say you have reconsidered, and that Stewart won’t be fined after all.

And, as long as I’m dreaming, bring the “five lug nut” rule back, too.

I’m not a huge Tony Stewart fan in general. But on this one, Stewart was right about what he said.

And, guess what? We live and watch races in America, a fact NASCAR likes to tout at every flag-waving, military-praising opportunity.

Even if Stewart had been wrong, he had the right to say what he said, and that right should be defended. Bravo to his fellow drivers for doing so.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

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