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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