The No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang lost a wheel at Phoenix Raceway on March 12. Three days later, NASCAR announced penalties that will sideline two crew members.
According to the penalty report on March 15, the No. 10 team violated Sections 184.108.40.206 A&C, “Loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle,” of the NASCAR Rule Book. The note added that it was a lost tire/wheel during the event at Phoenix Raceway.
As a result, front tire changer Ryan Mulder and jackman Sean Cotten will both receive two-race suspensions. They will be eligible to return for the April 2 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. Meanwhile, Almirola will move forward with two replacement crew members.
The Lost Wheel Created Discussions & Questions
The incident occurred when Almirola went hard into the wall at the start-finish line on Lap 138. The wheel then came off his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, which brought out the caution.
This did not initially appear to be a standard lost wheel. The tire was nowhere to be seen while only part of the wheel rolled down the track. The rest was still attached to the No. 10.
More information surfaced after William Byron won the points-paying event at Phoenix Raceway, courtesy of FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass. He spoke to officials, who said that replay showed the lug nut coming off before the wheel broke. Almirola’s crew chief also confirmed that the wheel was not tight.
Additionally, Pockrass noted that there is a bolt on the lower control arm that is close to the “inner tire bead.” He explained that the wheel can rub on this bolt “under load” if it is not tight. This is what happened as the bolt cut through the inner rim.
Multiple Drivers Have Lost Wheels
Lost wheels are nothing new in NASCAR. There have been several instances over the years with such drivers as Brian Vickers, Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, and Dave Blaney among others.
The Next Gen era has seen several other instances as teams have adjusted to the single-lug wheels. They started early with Kaz Grala and Justin Haley losing wheels during the Daytona 500.
The issues continued with Corey LaJoie, Bubba Wallace, AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, BJ McLeod, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Busch. Martin Truex Jr. joined the list at Auto Club Speedway in 2023.
The overwhelming majority of these drivers have received penalties, which included suspensions for crew members. Those that lost wheels in 2022 lost two crew members and their crew chief for four weeks. Those with lost wheels in 2023 only lost two crew members for two weeks.
The only exception was Christopher Bell. NASCAR made a judgment call and avoided penalizing Joe Gibbs Racing after the No. 20 lost a wheel on pit road at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Austin Cindric also lost a wheel on pit road at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but his team received a penalty due to the speed the wheel was traveling after disconnecting from the No. 2 Ford Mustang.