Blog Entry

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

Posted on: September 27, 2011 3:57 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 5:30 pm
By Pete Pistone

  Jimmie Johnson, Driver Of The #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Pits
(To fuel or not to fuel? That's been a big question in NASCAR 2011)

Here’s what NASCAR should do in response to the current phase of fuel mileage races on the Sprint Cup Series.

Absolutely nothing. 

There’s nothing wrong or out of whack with the majority of races being decided by fuel strategy this season. It’s simply an evolution of the sport and in reality, a concept that has been part of NASCAR since day one.

Every race is a fuel strategy affair and it’s up to the crew chiefs, team engineers and eventually the drivers to manage those calculations on the racetrack. In reality it’s no different than figuring out tire management, camber or chassis set-up for each race. The teams that hit on those important elements are the ones that are successful. 

Personally I’ve been intrigued by the racing this season and the element of drama that gets woven in because of the fuel questions. Actually the drivers that have won these races this year aren’t some undeserving back marker who ran 20th all day and then capitalized on the front half of the field running of gas on the final lap. Rather they’ve shown skills of being able to race hard while conserving fuel and have been the beneficiary of their team’s preparation. 

There are definitely factors contributing to the upward trend of fuel mileage races this year. Goodyear has created a product that simply does not wear out as quickly as previous rubber, thus eliminating the need to come to pit road for tires as often. 

Some have called for the tire manufacturer to simply go back to a softer compound and make what would basically be a weaker and less safe tire. Aside from the obvious danger, asking Goodyear to essentially produce a more inferior tire is counterproductive at best. 

Changing the size of the fuel cell would also be a waste of effort. Although the tanks have shrunk from 22 to 18 gallons in recent years, it remains the same for every team and every car. Whether a 50-gallon drum or a thimble was used to carry fuel, if all the cars are the same how would it impact figuring out fuel mileage? 

Long green flag runs have been in large supply during this recent run of fuel strategy races and the appearance of late cautions has been few and far between. 

In general the number of yellow flags for each event is down. Chalk that up to couple of reasons. The caliber of driver in the Sprint Cup Series is much more of a veteran variety, which means more experience behind the wheel. For better or worse, the lack of younger and rookie drivers means less mistakes on the track, adding up to fewer spins, crashes and wrecks and in turn cautions. 

There’s also the Sprint Cup car itself to keep in mind. Unlike its predecessor, the current Cup machine that debuted in 2007 is much stronger and more durable, able to withstand a lot more contact and impact than the previous incarnation. Although we still see cars hit the wall and each other, the damage and debris left behind is much more minimal which has eliminated opportunities for additional caution flags. 

There have been suggestions perhaps NASCAR should intervene by throwing a caution with a handful of laps left and allow the teams to come down, fuel up and then have a shootout to the finish. If anything, it’s a pretty ironic concept considering detractors believe NASCAR has always thrown “phantom” cautions for mysterious debris to tighten up the field when things get a little strung out. Obviously if it were the case, this season would seem to be the perfect time for that conspiracy theory to be on display which it clearly is not. 

But asking the sanctioning body to manipulate the outcome of a race by throwing a late caution to even things up and erase the fuel strategy element is messing with the very fabric of the sport. 

For more than sixty years, Sprint Cup Series racing has been a sport with a pre-set distance. Races evolve naturally and the ebb and flow is determined by whatever circumstances arise over the course of the event. 

To trump it up by adding in some kind of contrived late break to set up a dash to the checkered flag would sap every ounce of credibility out of the sport, the equivalent to an NFL game wiping out three quarters of scores for a 0-0 fourth quarter in hopes of creating a thrilling finish. 

If you want gimmicks, watch the all-star race. If you want heat races, buy a ticket to a local short track.

But NASCAR racing at the highest level should be left as is and if fuel strategy is part of the equation, so be it.

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Category: Auto Racing

Since: Sep 2, 2006
Posted on: September 30, 2011 9:28 am

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

like I said, the type of fuel doesnt matter. They could find a fuel that last 200 miles per tank full.. they would still try to push it to 201. Just cant use last weeks results as your qualifier.

Since: Apr 10, 2008
Posted on: September 30, 2011 6:30 am

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

Good article. Interesting comments. Regardless of the rules, we know some sharp crew chief will find a way to benifit most. It doesn't matter what type of gas, tires or body construction makes their way to the track. Good teams prosper consistantly. As pointed out in the article, it's not back-markers taking advantage but good cars in good position.

... done rambling ...

Since: Aug 15, 2006
Posted on: September 29, 2011 2:54 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

trucking, actually the type of fuel does matter.  As I pointed out.  These cars would be going further on a tank of fuel therefore we wouldn't see all these fuel mileage races.  Again, take last week as an example.  Clint Bowyer would have 18 more laps, approximately, before he ran out therefore he would have won and not run out of fuel. 

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: September 29, 2011 1:04 am

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

Good point speed.  You spin out and cause the yellow, then come get tires & fuel when most of the leaders stay out, then end up in a better position than some of them when the race goes green awhile.  Not totally fair. 

Another thing I'd really like to see, is NASCAR not being so quick to throw a caution when someone spins out of the way.  If they are spinning up the track in front of oncoming cars, then throw the caution right away.  But if they spin coming off turn 2/4 and slide into the infield and out of harms way, they should keep it green.  Or at least put the car a lap down.  If someone ran into the back of someone to cause the spin, bring them down pitroad for a penalty.

Since: Aug 11, 2008
Posted on: September 28, 2011 9:37 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

Great discussion and I agree with HTB. One additional point, if you follow HTB's rules, the car that causes the caution gets the penalty for being the reason for the caution. If there is a disadvantage to pitting under caution, then only the cars involved in the wreck will come to pit lane under caution, and accordingly come back at the end of the pack. There are too many cases of cars that have caused the caution getting a break because they didn't lose any track position because of the timing of the caution (like flat tire from a side rub, or a fender rub on a tire from contact on the track).

Since: May 2, 2007
Posted on: September 28, 2011 9:14 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

Thanks Bored, I really do think a rule like this would allow the race to play out in a more natural fashion and add a ton of excitement.  

The onus on the driver's overall abilities and the teams to perfrom top notch pit stops would go through the roof.  

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: September 28, 2011 8:50 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

I like the idea HTB.  Anything to make it more of a natural race where drivers don't get screwed as much by cautions would be good by me.  I don't really see how it's any more dangerous having them pit under green versus yellow either as the pit road speed is the same.

Since: May 2, 2007
Posted on: September 28, 2011 8:37 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

Mikey, the fueler is next to the waall when the car comes into the pit, whether it's under caution or green.  The pit crews are in a hurry whether it's under caution or under green.  Teams make mistakes whether it's under caution or under green.  Jacks are dropped too soon whether it's under caution or under green.  Pit road speed is the same under caution or under green.  The same maximum number of crewman allowed over the wall are the same under  caution or under green.  Pit road penalties are (close to being) the same whether they are under caution or under green.

There's only 1 team that takes their time during a pit stop under caution and that's the Lucky Dog, everyone else is in a hurry. By the nature of the sport the teams should be in a hurry under every pit stop, so what I'm suggesting wouldn't be any different than what they are doing today.  

In the long run it would make pit road safer, because much like when there are long green flag runs and teams pit over the course of 4-6 laps, there would be fewer guys pitting at the same time, and I tend to think that as the race moves on you would see the pit window getting wider and wider.    

Since: Aug 15, 2006
Posted on: September 28, 2011 6:26 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

HTB, while it sounds great cars coming off and on pit road while under green for fuel would probably be more dangerous than refueling under yellow.  Here's why.

The fueler is next to the wall when the car comes into the pit, Under caution the cars are coming in under control, however, you see more mistakes with green flag pit stops because everyone is in a hurry.  Jacks dropped too soon, cars leaving with equipment and what not. 

Yes these things happen under yellow too, but I for one thinks your idea while intruging I just don't see it working. 

Since: May 2, 2007
Posted on: September 28, 2011 4:20 pm

Idle Thoughts: Fuel mileage races perfectly fine

This has been something that has bugged me for quite some time and I happen to believe that I have a fair, feasible and easy to police solution that would make pit road safer, make for better racing, and minimize the potential for fuel mileage races.


Under caution, you can come in get tires, repair your car, make adjustments etc..., but absolutely no fueling the car.  All fueling must be done while under green flag conditions.  This would take absolutely nothing away from the racing itself.  I would make the

Just think about the excitement this would add to the race, the possibilities are endless, here are just a few...
  • Pitting under caution and getting tires will not help you if you have to come back in 15 laps later to get 2 cans of fuel, you may as well stay out and get tires then.
  • Since all of the cars get various fuel mileage, fewer cars would be on pit road (safety benefit - a huge bonus).
  • Fewer opportunities for drivers to stay out on the track under caution just to earn a bonus point for leading (this is a JOKE!!!)
  • Minimize the bogus winner of rain shortened events - granted this could still happen, but luck would really have to be on your side.

The only caveat would be when NASCAR has prolonged cautions (like for rain) and cars need to pit for fuel while under caution, then the penalty is simple - a stop and go penalty must be served when the race goes back to green.

I've debated this with several of my race fan friends, and I have yet to run into someone that did not like the idea.  Please share your thoughts.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or