RICHMOND, Va. — Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart returned to the track Friday for the first time this season, and several drivers said they support his right to raise questions about safety concerns.
NASCAR fined Stewart $35,000 on Thursday for criticizing the series for not policing how many lug nuts teams change while switching tires. Some teams have changed four lug nuts instead of five for a faster pit stop, especially late in races, leading to a rash of loose wheels in the past two races.
The nine-member driver council said it would pay the fine for Stewart, saying it disagreed with the punishment. Council member Denny Hamlin said at Richmond International Raceway that solidarity was important.
NASCAR said Friday that it has always had severe penalties in place for loose wheels, including a four-race suspension for the crew chief and tire changer, but Scott Miller, senior vice president for competition, said the series has decided to "re-evaluate our position" in enforcing the rules.
Stewart, who is retiring at the end of this season, missed the first eight races because of a back injury.
Qualifying for Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 was rained out; Kevin Harvick earned the pole based on his practice lap at 129.069 mph, followed by Joey Logano. Stewart starts 18th.
NHRA: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) led the 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C., after one qualifying run; the second run was rained out.