Senior staff writer
Ah ha; it took long enough but the motorsports world finally came up with its early-season controversies involving NASCAR Sprint Cup, IndyCar and Formula One series.
Ranked in importance: (1.) Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart sounded off against NASCAR’s relaxed rule that did not require all five lug nuts to be fastened on a wheel; (2.) Verizon IndyCar leader Simon Pagenaud has won two races in questionable fashion; and (3.) Bernie Ecclestone has raised the gender flag sky high in F1.
Last week Stewart brought the lug nut safety issue to the top of NASCAR’s chart. A few days before his return to racing, the Hoosier racer criticized NASCAR for its lack of safety and was immediately fined $35,000 by the sanctioning body.
Funny thing about that fine though. The nine-member Drivers Council voted to pay NASCAR the $35,000 fine on behalf of Stewart who made his remarks in Denver at a NASCAR Race to Green initiative to protect the environment.
Council member Hamlin emphasized, “Tony was in his rights to state his opinion.”
The council was formed last year and includes who is on the council with Earnhardt, Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson. They have clout
In a turnabout NASCAR sent a memo to all teams Monday that all five lug nuts must be installed “in a safe and secure manner” at all times during an event. Loss of a wheel beyond the exit of pit road may result in a penalty. Violations could result in a minimum four-race suspension of the crew chief and tire changer.
NASCAR’s action supports what the two elder spokesmen – Earnhardt and Stewart – had said publically.
“It freaks me out,” Earnhardt said during race week at Bristol. “We will just have to try to do the best we can as drivers not to end up in the fence.”
Stewart’s comments were a bit stronger: “We shouldn’t be playing games with safety to win races. It (winning) should be out-performing the other teams, not jeopardizing drivers’ lives by teams putting two lug nuts on to try to get two more spots off pit road.”
Explaining the rules change, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said that “aggressive strategies” had taken place on pit road and that “safety is an area we do not take lightly.”
Now that the lug nut controversy has been diminished, will NASCAR rescind its fine against Stewart? No.
Verizon IndyCar Series points leader and Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, one of the series’ most personable drivers, has had controversial incidents at Long Beach and Birmingham non-oval races.
At Long Beach, the series’ hottest driver with a 1.5 average finish after four races exited pit lane with two tires over a yellow line that should not be crossed that allows race cars to blend in safely with the field.
Runner-up Scott Dixon was irate and emphasized that the rule should have been enforced and that a drive-through penalty should have been assessed. The three-member panel of stewards gave race winner Pagenaud only a warning.
And at Birmingham Sunday, runner-up Graham Rahal said that Pagenaud blocked him and that eventually forced Rahal to make a bold move later but clipped a slower car driven by Jack Hawksworth.
Rahal, with a damaged front wing, still hung on for second.
Pagenaud leads Dixon by 48 points with Angie’s List Grand Prix next at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, May 14.
Bernie speaks, uh oh
Formula One czar Ecclestone recently said that women could not physically drive F1 race cars and, even if they tried, would not be taken seriously.
Pippa Mann, a four-time Indianapolis 500 competitor, wanted Ecclestone to know that she is strong enough to drive and Indy car without power steering.
The best remarks came from Shirley Muldowney, the first woman of drag racing, when interviewed on BBC World News.
“Winning…that’s the bottom line,” the retired three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion said. “I’m not out there because I’m trying to prove anything, and I’m not out there because I want to prove Mr. Ecclestone is a bonehead.”
Several years ago when Lyn St. James raced in the “500,” she emphasized that the race car doesn’t know if it’s a man or a woman at the wheel.
Greenwood’s Drew Skillman reached the NHRA Pro Stock semifinal round for the third time this season Sunday in the zMax Four-Wide Nationals in North Carolina. Skillman, fourth in Pro Stock points, also reached the semis in the Ray Skillman Auto Group Ford at California and Texas. He is a teammate of reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders. Ray and Bill Skillman qualified 1-2 in Super Stock with Bill reaching the third round of eliminations.
Flyin’ Bryan Clauson, who is entered in a Byrd Family entry in the Indianapolis 500, recently won his fourth straight USAC Sprint Car race at Bloomington Speedway and becomes the all-time winner there with five career wins.
The Indianapolis Speedrome features the Super Stock Spring Showdown 40-lap Figure-8 Championship with racing at 7 p.m. Saturday. The third Saturday night program of the new season also features a Thundercar Figure-8, Pro Compacts, Indy Faskarts and UAW American Made Mel Kenyon Midget Series. The 75-lap Ed Bishop Memorial 75-lap race for World Figure-8 cars unfolds May 7.