Stewart says he won't hold tongue on safety concerns

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) NASCAR driver and car owner Tony Stewart says he's not going to keep quiet when he has safety concerns.

The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was fined $35,000 on Thursday by NASCAR after suggesting that the series needs to do a better job of monitoring whether teams use five lug nuts during tire changes instead of letting teams take short cuts, using three or four, at the risk of safety. Using few lug nuts has led to a rash of loose wheels in the past two races.

Stewart, making his first start this season after missing eight races following back surgery, hasn't made himself available to reporters this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. But he did an interview with FOX as part of the pre-race coverage of Sunday's race on the 0.75-mile oval.

''I understand what NASCAR is trying to do, but I'm always going to speak my mind,'' Stewart said. ''I don't know what the key word or key phrase was that got me fined. When it comes to safety, I'm not going to hold back. That's $35,000 well invested if it makes it safer for these guys.''

NASCAR announced Friday it plans to review the policy for loose wheels.

The series heads next week to Talladega Superspeedway, the biggest track in the premier series. The weekend includes a previously scheduled meeting between the series and the nine-member Drivers Council to discuss issues. Stewart is a member of the council, formed last year, which said Thursday that it believes Stewart has a right to voice his concerns and will pay the fine for him.

''You don't want to be in a position with 20 laps to go and you are leading and you haven't won a race and you need that to have to make a decision as a driver whether to come in or ride it out and hope it stays. That's not a good position for us to be in,'' Stewart said, adding that he thinks NASCAR does a good job overall with safety but ''dropped the ball'' where lug-nuts policing is concerned.

He said he's confident the issue will be addressed.

''They're looking at it and addressing it and making it right,'' he said. ''Down the road, we won't have to worry about this again.''

In the race, Stewart was running 21st, one lap down with 130 laps to go and dueling with Joey Logano to be first in line to get the lap back when Logano nudged Stewart's car, flattening a tire and causing him to make a pit stop. He came back out running 27th, still just one lap off the pace. He eventually did get his lap back, and wound up 19th.

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