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Being Cool With Fuel Could Decide Chase Title

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2011

Ryan Newman says being able to squeeze the most out of a tank of fuel may play a big role in this year's Chase. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Kelly Pope) play

LOUDON, N.H. – Ryan Newman has an engineering degree from Purdue University and a pretty darn good understanding of the way things work in a race engine. But, like everyone else, he struggles to figure out of the best way to conserve fuel during NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

Asked what makes a difference in saving fuel, Newman quipped: “Genetics.’’

In a way, he’s right. It’s all up to the individual driver how they work at saving fuel.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a beneficiary of the chaotic finish in last week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, the opening event of the 10-race Chase for the championship. Several contenders, including five-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, trying to stretch their final tank of gas, ran out on the last lap, shuffling the finishing order.

Johnson, who coasted across the finish line in 10th after running in the top three late in the race, said Chicagoland is only an precursor of things to come.

“This year, I think, we’ll see fuel mileage play a larger role in the championship than we have in years past,’’ Johnson said. “With the repaving at Phoenix, you can’t wear the tire out on the new asphalt, so it’s going to be a fuel mileage race. Talladega to a certain degree will be, (the race) here will be (a fuel mileage race) for sure. We have a lot of tracks with very low tire wear that will promote fuel mileage races.’’

Earnhardt, whose last Cup victory – in 2008 at Michigan International Speedway – was a fuel economy run, said, “You just start doing whatever you think you need to do to save.

“We talk all the time about fuel mileage races and how they seem to be part of the norm, more than they are the exception,’’ he continued. “There is nothing really you can do to get rid of them. Even if you change the size of the fuel cell, the way you race is, you pit as soon as you get inside the pit window. You want to call it fate or whatever, it seems like all the cautions come out at that particular time.’’

Every driver puts a lot of thought into how to save fuel, when necessary. Earnhardt noted that every driver also thinks the way they save gas is the right one.

“We all sort of study about what to do, whether it be just lifting off the gas, simply lifting and just coasting into the corner, lifting earlier than you normally would, whether you need to turn (the engine) off, clutch the motor, whatever,’’ Earnhardt said. “There are all kinds of techniques that guys have and think (are) good. Everybody thinks their method works best and everybody is sort of doing something different out there.’’

Newman said there are a lot of things a team can do to help the driver save fuel.

“The car balance is one thing,’’ Newman said. “Knowing what you have to do to conserve energy is the other part of it. Track position is a big factor of it, too.

“There were times (last week) at Chicago that I was getting drafts off of the guys on the straightaways just to try to save some fuel. … It is a matter of figuring out how much you actually are saving as a driver and having the performance to get to Victory Lane or get the best possible finish you can.’

Kurt Busch, a contender who made it to the finish line under power, finishing sixth behind winner Tony Stewart, said it’s not all up to the driver in a fuel mileage race, although he or she is an important part of the equation.

“It has a lot to do with the way your team sets up the carburetor and it has a lot to do with your actual fuel mileage,’’ Busch said.

Carl Edwards, another of the Chase contenders, said, “I think (fuel mileage racing) is going to be a bigger part of the sport. Until a guy can pull in, get tires on and go past 15 cars, until we get back to that type of racing, I think the guy that can stay out, keep the track position and stretch fuel mileage is going to have an advantage.

“It’s probably a byproduct of the parity among cars, the difficulty of passing.’’

“It’s typical of crew chiefs,’’ said Jeff Gordon, who also came up short at Chicagoland. “They are like, `Save fuel , but don’t give up that spot.’

“One of the things in our (team) meeting that we went over this week, you can only save so much (fuel). I don’t care how hard you try, what your technique is. You can only save so much,’’ he added.  ”You’ve got to have pretty decent fuel mileage to begin with to push the limits.’’

And the four-time Cup champion isn’t one who laments the fuel mileage races.

“I think as long as the race is exciting and interesting, then it’s good,’’ Gordon said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a two-tire stop, a four-tire stop or fuel mileage, they all create drama and challenges for us as competitors. You win however you can win them.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Jim says:

    Cut the events (races) to 250 miles, add a 40 gallon fuel tank and let em run wide open. At 125 to 150 miles everyone pits for fuel one time only. These drivers are only racing the first 50 laps and the last 50 laps anyway. Cruising all laps in between. The engine guys will have to make the cars fast and economic.

  • Sue Rarick says:

    What fuel mileage races mean to me is more time away from the TV. I have always loved the racing of NASCAR, but watching a car coast is not racing.

    So when NASCAR decides to return to racing and not doing a poor immitation of the Mobile Economy Run, I will start watching again. Till then I will read about it thru the Jayski links on Mondays while having my coffee. And totally forget about going to anymore races (oops, shouldn’t they be called events since they’ve stopped racing?)