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This week NASCAR released a host of changes to its lengthy rulebook. The decision to outlaw Ross Chastain’s Hail Melon unsurprisingly received the most attention. Interestingly, one rule and penalty that made headlines for much of last year was modified for the 2023 Cup Series season but received much less publicity. 

NASCAR Cup Series teams suffer big penalties for loose wheels

It started at Daytona and lasted for much of the year — loose wheels dangerously rolling or bounding down the track at high rates of speed, forcing drivers to make split-second decisions to maneuver and avoid hitting the wheel and propelling it into the stands. 

To avoid those dangerous scenarios, NASCAR doled out what most considered a harsh penalty, with the crew chief and two pit crew members receiving a four-race suspension. The sanctioning body hoped such a penalty would discourage it from happening in the future. 

However, targeting the crew chiefs was not the right approach, and the teams made that clear, suggesting they: a) had nothing to do with the loose wheel and b) weren’t trying to cut corners with a single lugnut as might have been the case in the past with multiple lugs. 

NASCAR changes rule in 2023

Later in the 2022 season, NASCAR started trying to make adjustments to the rule with language identifying where the loose wheel occurred and if it went into another pit box. But the suspensions remained the same.

This week, the governing body released its new rules for the coming season. Among them was one dealing with loose wheels. The 2023 version is considerably different, picking up where the modifications started late in 2022 with the location of the incident mattering, but more importantly, crew chiefs are no longer part of the punishment.

If a wheel comes off a car while on pit road during a caution, the car restarts at the tail end of the field. It is a pass-thru penalty if a wheel comes off on a pit road under green-flag conditions.

When the car has left pit road and loses a wheel on the track, the driver will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will apply to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity, and Trucks.

Sanctioning body deserves credit

NASCAR Cup Series race
NASCAR Cup Series race lead by Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson in Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 18, 2021. | Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

NASCAR catches flak from the teams and fans on a pretty consistent basis, and a lot of it deservedly so. Sometimes the sanctioning body can be like a massive ship and take a long time to get things turned and headed in the right direction.  

It took a whole season for officials to finally change the overly harsh loose-wheel penalty, but they did it. That’s progress. 

And now crew chiefs can go back to doing what they do best — worrying about how their car’s performing on the track and not whether or not they’ll be in attendance at the following race because a crew member failed to get a wheel properly installed.