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Here’s the worst thing about fuel mileage races

By admin | October 14, 2012

By Richard Allen

There are many things not to like about NASCAR races that end with a slow moving, fuel saving stretch run. And it seems now as if those type of races are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Saturday’s Sprint Cup event in Charlotte became the latest in a long list of races to be settled by a contest of who could coast the farthest rather than who could drive the fastest.

But easily, the worst aspect of all about fuel mileage decided races is that the strategy for the end run begins well before the final planned pit stop. Drivers begin to conserve, and thus not actually race, sometimes at the halfway point or even earlier. For that matter, there is even talk of saving gas at the very beginning of some races.

I monitor team radios throughout most races and have even heard crew chiefs imploring drivers to save fuel as they roll off of pit road for the pace laps so as to set the strategy for later on.

It used to be that on the much less frequent times when races were determined by fuel mileage, that line of thinking did not begin until the time for the final pit stop approached. Now, that line of thinking begins as many as three stops before the final trip to pit road. Crew chiefs begin plotting what lap their car must get to in order to set up a final stretch run thus making the entire final half of many races a coast in which drivers are often told to not drive too hard because it will use up too much gas.

“Gosh, I want to know how much fuel I’ve got left. I saved so much,” said 2nd place Charlotte finisher Denny Hamlin. “Darian(Grubb, crew chief) waited so long to cut me loose to go and I still didn’t go to the full capability.

“It goes against everything we’ve ever learned as race car drivers,” Hamlin continued regarding fuel mileage runs. “When you get terrible fuel mileage it means you’re in the gas, and that’s what we’re taught to do as kids.”

Unfortunately, it goes against what most fans are taught to watch for at NASCAR race. Having a driver say, “I still didn’t go to the full capability” is not exactly what a fan hopes to hear in post-race interviews after having plunked down $100+ for a ticket.

Imagine where this sport would be today if the 1979 Daytona 500 had come down to a fuel run that crew chiefs had begun planning for at the midway point rather than a hard charging race to the checkered flag.

There are any number of possible fixes, most of which have been addressed for months or even years on this website. Larger fuel tanks that would cause the gas to outlast the tires or softer tires that wouldn’t last as long as the gas would be two potential solutions. But more, as I have said many times, crews need to be allowed more freedom in the setups of these cars. So many mandated aspects of the internal workings of the machines have everyone driving the same car. That, in turn, causes crew chief to look at the few variables they have available, and fuel mileage is one of them.

An occasional gas saving run at the very end can add some drama to a particular race. But to have this happen on an almost weekly basis has become a monotony many would rather not be a witness to. Did you happen to see the grandstands on Saturday night at “The only night race in the Chase” contested in the very heart of NASCAR country?

The Chase is not helping NASCAR’s attendance or ratings. And neither is fuel mileage racing. The question is, what will NASCAR do about it?

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14 Responses to “Here’s the worst thing about fuel mileage races”

  1. Bill B Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 5:49 am

    What will NASCAR do about it? They will tell us how great everything is and find some meaningless statistics to back it up.

  2. Tony Geinzer Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 6:24 am

    It will take Sprint leaving to end the Chase.

  3. Arnold Decker Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 7:16 am

    there is a simple solution that no one wants to consider.
    Have a manditory pit stop 25 or so laps from the end. Have everyone pit, then restart in the same order.

  4. midasmicah Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Rich, the sad part is that the buffoons in Daytona just don’t seem to get. It’s also sad when the one driver whose actually driving to win runs out of fuel. This is just the latest example of drivers racing “not to lose” or “points racing”. And wasn’t it nice when Mnsr. Debris made an appearance setting up another contrived finish? And the beat goes on.

  5. RC Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Biff won that one in my book.

  6. CLT Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Arnold Decker—very good idea.

  7. Wayne T. Morgan Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I agree with Arnold about a pit stop 25 laps from the end of so called fuel races. Hell. the WoO throws a red flag in their races if there has been a lot of caution laps so they race for the win. Why can’t NA$CAR?

  8. djones Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 11:33 am

    We all know that it’s the green gas causing the fuel mileage races. I think nascar does too, but they’ll never admit it. Too bad they didn’t increase the size to the gas tank when they went green so this wouldn’t be a problem. I was shocked after the first pit stop Sat night that Chad K told JJ to start saving fuel. This after the first few laps!

  9. Bill B Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 11:35 am

    What good would that caution with 25 laps left do? It would just move the fuel mileage race up to 25 laps. If you could stretch your fuel to that point you’d be first out of the pits since you are locked in place. Sure, it would guarentee that everyone could race full throttle at the end but it still wouldn’t ensure that the guy that was fastest would win if fuel mileage wasn’t an issue at all.

  10. Bill H Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Two words: heat racing.

  11. loose nut Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    That was the most boring race ever! Look in the stands dummies at CRAPCAR! They used to be full!

  12. Jerseygirl24 Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Boring race indeed. I spent $ to travel to that loser and wasted my entire weekend and I do mean it was a waste of time and money.

    I’ve never liked the chase, the ugly car or all the points racing that begins in Daytona and now never ends until Homestead.

    The man on the high wire put on an impressive performance, the rest of it was just dreck. I used to be excited to go to a race, not any more.

    However, I’m sure that BZF and everyone that NASCAR has their thumb on will continue to tell me that I’m just a stupid fan. I’ve always said I’d continue until Jeff Gordon retires, but I’m not sure I will be able to hold out that long after all.

  13. Russ Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    And Fox is going to pay a third more for the new TV contract, so everything must be great, right?

    Must mean that they are happy with the way things are going.

  14. Ken Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    I don’t know, I must have watched some other race Saturday night. I watched it from the very start, and for the most part, I enjoyed it, especially when Greg Biffle was leading. And at the end, yes, I was disappointed when he (and Carl) had to hit the pits for fuel. However, for those last ten laps, I was so hoping that Johnson’s car ran out when he hit the line with two to go, and was hoping that when Bowyer and Hamlin hit the same line and got the white flag that they both coughed and sputtered and gave the win the Greg. Oh well, it didn’t happen. Still, with two of my favorite drivers having good runs (for one of them, it was about time!), I enjoyed the race. Guess I don’t know what constitutes a good race.