By admin | June 22, 2009
By Richard Allen
When Darrell Waltrip and his friends at the Fox Network come back in 2010 to cover NASCAR races he should change his, “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity! Let’s go racin’ boys!” to “Conserve, Conserve, Conserve! Let’s go save some fuel boys!”.
The races in Pocono and Michigan of the past two weeks each came down to fuel mileage stretches in which the winners coasted across the finish line on fumes being followed by competitors who could not catch up because they themselves were soft pedaling their cars.
Going into Sunday’s Toyota/ Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway teams had fuel mileage on their minds right from the start. When I say right from the start, I mean right from the start. TNT pit reporters said that some drivers were told not to start their engines at the “Gentlemen, Start your engines!” command in order to not waste fuel.
In listening to scanner chatter as cars rode around on the pace laps I heard more than one crew chief urging drivers to save fuel…on the pace laps!
I’ll bet that is what the guys who went out to run that first Daytona 500 in 1959 were thinking as they ran their initial pace laps on the big 2.5 mile speedway(sarcasm intended).
As it turned out fuel did not really come into play at the finish of the race but it did affect the way the race played out. Drivers who could have been racing for position were instead doing whatever it took to keep from running the gas out of their tanks so they could get inside their ‘window’ and make it to the end of the race.
When told to go ahead and drive as hard as he could during Sunday’s race Tony Stewart declared, “I like that strategy better than this coasting crap.”
Fuel mileage runs are not very exciting for fans. Drivers say they are nerve fraying and they cause crew chiefs to sweat out the end of a race, but for fans they are not exactly what is hoped for when high dollar tickets are purchased.
Perhaps NASCAR should consider adding a time element to its races. Saying the race will end after ‘X’ number of laps or ‘X’ amount of time might help remove the gas stretches because of the uncertainty of the race ending.
Or, cars could be given a much bigger fuel tank so the tires would always wear out before the gas ran out. That might force drivers to go ahead and race hard, knowing their tires would not last long enough for a fuel stretch.
The bigger fuel tank idea might work except for one thing. Teams would try to go as long as possible on a tank of fuel knowing their tires might give out anyway. If a driver crashed and then said he did so because of a blown tire it might make Goodyear look bad. Goodyear pays NASCAR a lot of money to be the ‘Official Tire of NASCAR’. They cannot be made to look bad.
Whatever the soultion, there needs to be an element of racing in racing.
Fuel prices are high right now despite the fact that there is an abundance of gasoline in storage tanks. It seems as though the oil companies have realized it is summer driving season so they have decided to stick it to the consumer. However, NASCAR is not the place where conservation needs to be the new battle cry.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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