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Some Drivers Are Fuming Over Fuel Mileage Racing

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 15 2009
Chances are, crew chief Tony Gibson is telling Ryan Newman how to save fuel this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chances are, crew chief Tony Gibson is telling Ryan Newman how to save fuel this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Brooklyn, Mich. – The pain was etched on Greg Biffle’s face Friday morning.

In June’s Lifelock 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Biffle was a mere mile from victory in team owner Jack Roush’s back yard.

Instead, his No. 16 Ford transformed from an 800 horsepower stock car into a soapbox derby racer when the fuel cell ran dry on the backstretch of the final lap, enabling former teammate Mark Martin to speed past for victory.

Just over two months after suffering one of the most painful losses in his career, Biffle will be looking for redemption and better fuel strategy when the green flag waves on Sunday’s CARFAX 400 at the 2-mile oval.

“It was pretty tough,” said Biffle, who had inherited the lead in June coming to the white flag when Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet ran out of fuel. “It seems like a lot of people forgot about (fuel mileage) that day.

“Hopefully, (Sunday) won’t come down to fuel mileage. And if it does come down to fuel mileage, our guys have been working really hard so that, if it does come down to fuel mileage again, we’ll be able to beat them.”

Exceptional fuel mileage carried Carl Edwards to wins at Texas and Homestead last fall. If that scenario plays out again on Sunday, Edwards believes his No. 99 Ford will be in a position to capitalize.

“I said after [the June race at Michigan] and I still feel that those races are really exciting for the drivers,” Edwards said. “They’re nerve wracking. It adds another variable to save fuel.

“I don’t know if you’re actually saving it or it just seems like you are. But I’ve been very fortunate to get really good fuel mileage in my Ford Fusion.

“I did think about (fuel mileage) this week and, because we do get such good fuel mileage, I need to stay on top of that and make sure that throughout the race I try to be aware of how I’m driving. I’ll be focused on it because it does happen a lot.”

Len Wood, co-owner of the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford, enjoys races that are determined by fuel mileage.

Wood thinks a run to the checkers on fumes on Sunday could benefit Wood’s driver, Bill Elliott, a seven-time winner at Michigan.

“A fuel mileage race is one of my favorite things,” said Wood, who calculates his team’s fuel mileage. “Bill Elliott gets better gas mileage than most people, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how your jets are set or anything like that. It’s connected to their foot and how they drive. Just some drivers get better than others.

“A lot of it is driver, depending on how they roll out of the throttle or how quick they jump back into the gas. It’s a lot to do with how they enter the corner.”

Former NASCAR crew chief Jeff Hammond learned early during his days on the pit box that the fastest car doesn’t always make it to victory lane.

“Anytime you come to a race track your first and foremost thought is that you want to have the fastest and best-handling race car on the race track where, hopefully, your driver can annihilate the competition,” Hammond said.

“But from time to time it doesn’t work that way and you have to be able to react to whatever circumstances are thrown at you.”

Had Juan Pablo Montoya been in Biffle or Johnson’s position at Michigan in June, he claims he’d have no bitterness over losing a race in that manner.

“It’s a team sport,” Montoya said. “It’s not only how fast you car is, but how good the fuel mileage is, how good it handles, how good everything is. You know what I mean? Winning on fuel mileage is part of the show.

“I don’t like it when the races go short because it really is not part of your plan. But if the race goes all the distance and somebody can make it and you can, it’s good. And if you can’t, you’ve got to work on it. And you’ve got to maybe give up a little horsepower and pace for the fuel mileage.

“It’s always a balance.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 15 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • midasmicah says:

    Okay. I’ve said this before. A few years ago they changed the capacity of the fuel cells from 22 gallons to 17 gallons. At that point I wrote in what would happen. Well, guess what? That exactly what happened. Fuel milage races. . My second beef is this. I live on the west coast so it’s not as bad as on the east coast. But by the time this race starts, I’ll be watching the Mets- Giants game. Granted I’ll check once in a while on the race, but this why nas$car is losing at both the tv and attendence game. I’m a long time nas$car fan and I hope nas$car starts listening to it’s fans, but I’m not holding my breath.