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Memo: Mileage Races Won’t Fuel Chase Excitement

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 22 2011

Jimmie Johnson gets a push to the pits after running out of gas at Chicagoland. Pretty exciting, eh? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

In today’s Morning Memo we find that:

The fuel-mileage element to NASCAR races is out of control.

Yes, the race to get to the checkered flag before the cars start stuttering and gasping and slowing can add an element of drama to race-track proceedings. Theatrical-like drama.

But lost in that drama are such things as, well, auto racing. You know: seeing the best driver and/or the best car win the race. You know, seeing drivers drive their cars at full thrust as the most important laps click away instead of going all helium-foot in hopes of squeezing extra mileage out of their cars.

Tony Stewart may have had the best car in the late going at Chicagoland Speedway in Monday’s Chase-opening Sprint Cup race. And Stewart is one of the best drivers on the track every single time he takes a green flag.

But several very good cars and drivers – Chase cars and drivers – behind him were last seen sadly gliding on the apron in the current biggest race of the season. Love or hate those drivers, it was quite disappointing to see them take major points hits in the playoffs simply because they were not going slow enough over the final 20 laps of the race.

I agree most heartily with Matt Kenseth, who led large chunks of Monday’s race and certainly had a car capable of winning, when he said post-race: “I don’t know what to do about the fuel mileage. It is really

Matt Kenseth ran out of luck/fuel at Chicagoland. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

frustrating to be a race car driver and they drop the green on the last run of the day when you are supposed to put on a show for the fans and you have to run half throttle and can’t floor it or you will run out of gas. It is pretty aggravating to do all the work and qualifying and pit stops and adjustments but none of it makes a difference.”

Memo to NASCAR: Want to see fuel mileage determine race winners? Use V-4 diesels fitted with KERS.

Denny Hamlin seems only to understand half of the axiom that says: To win a championship, you first have to lose one.

A year after coming within just a couple hundred RPMs of winning the Chase, Hamlin is all but out of this year’s. He followed his aimless wandering 2011 regular season with a dreadful start to the Chase.

Hamlin qualified 27th at Chicagoland and then slipped backward. He finished 31st, three laps off the pace.

He was forced to pit road early in the race due to a loose wheel, but he was able to make his way back to

Denny Hamlin is in Chase trouble. Already. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

just one lap down before having to make another green-flag pit stop late in the race due to a flat tire.

Hamlin heads to New Hampshire for the second race of the Chase 45 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. That is, he heads to New Hampshire already in win or disappear mode.

The only thing which could be brightening Hamlin’s outlook this week would be the validity of another saying: Misery loves company. Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, finished 21st at Chicagoland and fell from first to ninth in the Chase standings.

Memo to Hamlin: Sometimes you have to lose two championships before winning your first one.

A couple of years ago, last weekend’s NHRA playoff-opening weekend at zMAX Dragway would have been a gas. The cars were hooked up like crazy at the Concord, N.C. track and speed records were being decimated.

But these days – days since the NHRA changed the length of runs from the traditional quarter mile to 1,000 feet – new national records fail to lift me out of my chair. They are simply not records to me. They are posted at bastardized distances.

I know why the change was made. Safety. Several of the current tracks – mostly tracks established during the pre-8,000 horsepower days – on the schedule lack enough runoff space to slow the nitro cars in the event of mechanical trouble.

And in these economic times, it’s unreasonable to ask the owners of these facilities to dump millions of dollars into upgrades.

So, for the time being NHRA fans are stuck with 1,000-foot runs and record passes the produce more yawns than awe.

Memo to NHRA: How about restoring quarter-mile distance at the tracks which can handle them?

Finally, congratulations to Scott Pruett, by far the best American sports car driver of his generation and, prehaps, any generation…to all those people how have asked me if I think Paul Menard spun his car on purpose at Richmond: Yes…am wondering what Hendrick Motorsports tells DuPont and Lowes when they ask why Tony Stewart didn’t run out of fuel at the end of the Chicagoland race…seems that NASCAR not totally in love with pairs racing at Talladega. How else to explain the new plate-hole sizes?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 22 2011
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Jim says:

    Current state of Nascar racing makes for excellent nap time

  • Mr. Racing says:

    “Scott Pruett, by far the best American sports car driver of his generation and, prehaps, any generation…”

    Do Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Mark Donahue, Peter Gregg and Tommy Kendall-a Pruett contemporary with loads more talent,qualify for “any generation”? Just to name a few.

    Ridiculous.

  • Dave says:

    I’d tweak the title of this article to read “Too Many Mileage Races Won’t Fuel Chase Excitement.” One would be fine if we hadn’t already seen this a few times already this year. I think mileage finishes are the end result of too many cookie-cutters, limited freedom of innovation among the teams, homogenous car bodies and tires that don’t allow for fall-off during a tire run. Teams are so restricted and cars are spec’d so closely that teams choose one of a shrinking handful of options to gain an advantage: stay out and milk it. Don’t blame the teams, of course. If kicking your mother in the shin would gain you a spot, they’d do it.

    It seems that there aren’t as many “risers and fallers”. Pit crews dominate. The factors that determine a race have been whittled down to too few. Yes, mileage and good crew work play a role but the prime factor should always, always, always be car and driver.

    And I’m one who would like to see a well balanced “Chase”. So long as they have it, why not make the most of it. A fuel mileage track, a plate track, a road course, a short track, an intermediate high banked track, etc, etc.

  • Lydia says:

    Ok…call me stupid…but aren’t ALL races fuel mileage races dictated by cautions, engines, drivers, pit stops, tires, track size, and track conditions? I mean sure you can say make the fuel cells larger…but that opens up the “well we have more fuel thus we can go farther thus we will make fewer pit stops thus we will STILL be a tad short…so we need the driver to save fuel. It’s hit or miss…just part of the many aspects making up a win..and it doesn’t happen enough to really worry about. OR, we can ask NASCAR to go back to throwing those phantom cautions the last 20 laps of a race!

  • Cathy9955 says:

    Good point! Fuel mileage racing is not racing..