1 of 2 | Tony Stewart receives service from his crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015. Stewart criticized NASCAR for its lack of a lug nut policy and for being lax on safety. Photo by Ed Locke/UPI | License Photo
Tony Stewart, who was fined by NASCAR last week for questioning the sanctioning body's commitment to safety, will pay the $35,000 on his own and donate the money given to him by fellow drivers to charity.
The nine-member NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Council decided to give the money to Stewart to pay his fine. The members of the 2016 council are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.
Stewart, a three-time champion who is retiring as a driver after this season, blasted NASCAR for its lack of a lug nut policy and for being lax on safety.
NASCAR stopped requiring teams to put all five lug nuts on its wheels at the start of last season. With officials no longer in every pit box, NASCAR said it was up to the teams whether they should put all five lug nuts on the wheel or not.
Five days after Stewart's comments, NASCAR sent a memo to crew chiefs Monday afternoon and changed the rule.
Teams will now be required to have all five lug nuts "installed in a safe and secure manner" or have the driver risk being called back into the pits during the race.
Stewart said Wednesday that the $35,000 from the Drivers Council will go to Autism Delaware, founded by NASCAR on Fox coordinating director Artie Kempner. Stewart's fine also will end up going to charity as fines collected by NASCAR go to its NASCAR Foundation.
"I appreciated the Drivers Council support, but I didn't want them to pay the fine. We decided as a group to donate the money to charity," Stewart said in a statement. "Artie is such a good friend to all of us and his foundation does a lot of great work."
Stewart last week said, "I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt. You will not have heard a rant that's going to be as bad as what's going to come out of my mouth if a driver gets hurt because of a loose wheel that hurts one of them. ... This is not a game you play with safety and that's exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this."
Last Sunday's race at Richmond was Stewart's first race of 2016 upon his return from offseason back injury. He started 18th and suffered a flat tire while a lap down on lap 268. He got back on the lead lap with the free pass during a caution with 75 laps to go and finished 19th.
"We just think that there should be a little bit of leniency there for someone that knows a lot about our sport and has been in our sport a long time," Hamlin said Friday of Stewart being fined. "He gave his opinion, and especially when it's something on safety, too, I think it's pretty important."