NASCAR: Here’s How Some Teams Are Working to Keep Wheels on Their Cars

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

There have been a number of NASCAR drivers who have lost their wheels this season. The issue has cost some drivers their crew chiefs. That goes for important crew members, too. Runaway wheels are a big deal in a NASCAR race. Here’s how bad it is. There is a specific rule for this. Now, the penalty for violating Rule is the loss of the crew chief and at least two crewmen for the next four races.

NASCAR Drivers Find Themselves Dealing With Numerous Wheels Issues

Two penalties occurred at the Daytona 500. That was followed by single violations at California’s Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, and last weekend at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas. What is happening? The wheels have been separating from their cars within a few laps after a pit stop. Teams take this issue seriously.

“It’s a big penalty, so we’ve tried to put a big emphasis on that from day one (with the Next-Gen car),” Ryan Blaney said ahead of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. “When a handful of guys had that problem at Daytona, it kind of got sorted out as far as the way they make the wheels.

“We (Team Penske) have been too hesitant on that issue to an extent of having too much torque on our nuts—making sure that doesn’t happen,” Blaney said. “It slows the stop down by making sure of that, so it’s a balancing act. How tightly do you want these things torqued each stop? You’re losing time getting them tight, but the penalty and the risk (of losing a wheel) is huge.”

Recent Penalties Have Been To Middle, Lower Level Teams So Far

Middle- to lower-level teams are getting penalized after losing tires. Justin Haley and Bubba Wallace each have one career victory, while Kaz Grala and Corey LaJoie have none. That begs the inevitable question: If the vendor-provided wheels and single-center lug nut are identical on all cars, is human error the cause?

Haley lost crew chief Trent Owens and crewmen Jacob Nelson and Marshall McFadden from recent races at Fontana, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Atlanta. Haley’s violation came at Daytona. Grala lost crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and tire changers Chris Zima and Aaron Powell for the same four races. Grala lost his wheel at Daytona, too. We get more from AutoWeek.

Then, Front Row Motorsports with rookie Todd Gilliland lost a wheel at Auto Club Speedway. Crew chief Seth Barbour and crewmen Jourdan Osinskie and Tanner Andrews missed subsequent tour stops at Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, and last weekend. Two weeks after Fontana, at Phoenix, Lajoie lost a wheel. At COTA last weekend, Wallace lost a left-rear tire at speed.