Let me tell you a little story: A few months ago, I took my car in for service, including rotating the tires. Unfortunately, the technician had a problem getting one of the lug nuts off a rim and wound up gouging the chrome that surrounded the lug nut.
And in so doing, the lug nut was ruined.
Admittedly, I was ticked off at first, but after doing some research, I learned that my particular type of chrome rim is prone to such an issue. The technician wasn’t negligent; it was part failure, so to speak.
The store manager told me I had two options: Replace the rim ($300 or more) or go with only four lug nuts.
“To be honest, if it was my wife or daughter driving, I wouldn’t let them drive with a wheel having only four lug nuts,” the manager said. “That’s unsafe.”
Which brings me to my point: If four lug nuts is unsafe on a passenger car, how could NASCAR teams think four – or in some cases, only three – lug nuts will keep a wheel properly on a car and not cause problems?
That’s why I applaud NASCAR for its edict earlier this week mandating that from this point on, things were going back to the old way (pre-2015), where all four wheels on a Sprint Cup, Xfinity or Truck Series vehicle must have all five lug buts affixed and tightened.
Sure, if you have only three or four lug nuts affixed, you may save a half-a-second or so during pit stops. But driving around without the required five lug nuts created all types of problems with drivers having loose wheels, particularly in recent races at Texas and Richmond.
Hellooooooo, duhhhhhhhh. Of COURSE, you’re going to have problems if you don’t have all lug nuts affixed and tight.
Honestly, when NASCAR began allowing teams to go with four or even three tightened lug nuts starting in 2015, I felt it was a risky move to do in the first place – and for all the same reasons why the sanctioning body reversed itself earlier this week.
In my opinion, NASCAR’s teams were running the risk of some serious tragedy occurring by worrying more about saving a half-second or so on pit road vs. safety of the driver, other drivers and yes, potentially of fans.
But be for the grace of a higher power, the sport dodged a huge bullet, in my opinion, in the roughly 1 ¼ seasons that the now-former policy was in place. Frankly, I believe it not only was a matter of time before a loose wheel would cause disaster, I also am surprised that nothing significant had indeed happened up to this point.
That’s sheer luck.
NASCAR implemented the four or three lug policy last season because teams had lobbied for it. While it may have seemed like a good idea initially, it ultimately proved to be too much of a risk to continue taking.
I reflect back to when Indy cars used to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. During a race back in 1999, three spectators were killed and nearly a dozen more were injured by a tire and debris that flew up into the grandstands.
I also reflect back a couple of years ago when Kyle Larson wrecked during an Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway and one of his tires sailed into the grandstands, injuring several fans.
Now, think about it, while those two particular incidents were the results of wrecks that caused the respective vehicles to break apart, the point I’m making is that the wheels on both the Indy car and the Sprint Cup car were both attached with proper lug nuts prior to impact.
And yet those incidents still caused tragedy.
Why would teams want to gamble and risk so much just to save a half-second or so on pit road? It just doesn’t make sense.
I’m glad NASCAR went back to the old way. Sure, teams may not be happy, but if by having five lug nuts on and tight on every wheel, the sport winds up saving lives, it’s well worth the extra effort – and the extra time it takes to assure safety wins out over shortened time on pit road.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski