By admin | August 16, 2009
By Richard Allen
It is always easy to make crucial calls after the fact, but sometimes the call that was made seems as though it should have not even been considered at the time in question.
On lap 157 of the Carfax 400 at the Michigan International Speedway, a yellow flag flew when David Stremme spun along the front straightaway. Even though there had been a caution just a few short laps prior, it seemed like an obvious call for at least some teams to pit their cars under the yellow. Pitting at that time would have essentially guaranteed making it to the end on fuel. Not pitting then put that possibility in serious jeopardy.
For those with little to lose there would be reason to consider staying out and maintaining or obtaining crucial track position. The few teams who are all but locked into the Chase for the Championship would be among those who might stay out and gamble because they have much to gain and little to lose. Those teams who are outside the Chaseâ€™s top-12 could be among those who would consider staying out because they have much to gain and little to lose.
However, for those teams at the back end of the top-12 in the standings and far from being locked in, it is somewhat mystifying as to why they would chose anything other than to pit.
The teams of Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin found themselves in the position of having much to lose by not pitting at the lap 157 caution yet they chose that option anyway. Those calls cost each a better finish than they ultimately wound up with and could have cost at least one, if not both, a chance to race for a championship.
Kenseth was faced with the situation of having older tires and less gas than almost everyone behind him. If he were to run hard to save his position on the track he would almost certainly run out of gas. If he tried to take it easy and save gas, he would be passed by many of the cars on fresher tires with no worries of running out of fuel. The latter is what occurred as Kenseth had to run slowly to preserve gas and was passed by those who had the luxury of being able to charge.
Martin was in the same tough spot as Kenseth. By not pitting he was faced with a no win situation. Run hard and empty the fuel cell or conserve and get passed. Unfortunately for Martin, he chose to conserve, but still ran out. It was the worst of both worlds for the veteran driver.
Kenseth wound up 15th in the race. He actually moved up one spot in the Chase standings due to Martinâ€™s misfortune. The #17 Ford is but 32 points ahead of Brian Vickers in 13th.
By running out of gas, Martin could only manage a 31st place finish. He is now in 12th in the Sprint Cup standings, just 12 points ahead of Vickers.
Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin seemed to have only one option when the caution flag flew on lap 157 but they did not pit anyway. It cost both of them in the end, and may yet cost them more.
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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