which has meant dramatically fewer cautions. And that, in
turn, has meant more races decided on fuel mileage.
Through the first 30 Sprint Cup races of this year, there have
been a total of 222 caution-flag periods. That’s down sharply
from 268 in 2008 and 307 in 2005.
“The major factor in the lack of cautions is Goodyear has
done a much better job this year and we’re not having guys
blow right-front tires, at the start, middle or end of the race,”
says Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing
Chevrolet. “I think, at the same time, from a reliability
standpoint, people’s engine packages have gotten better. We’re
seeing engine failures much fewer and farther between than
we ever did.”
Of course, racers being racers, some think the new-
generation tires are actually too good.
“Honestly, the tires are better,” says Denny Hamlin, driver
of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I know that’s what
Goodyear wants and what NASCAR wants and drivers want as
far as safety is concerned, but nowadays drivers don’t pay any
price for overdriving a racecar. This year, guys are driving
corner entry way harder than what they should be allowed to
and I think that is some of the reason why you see some of the
more successful drivers and new drivers
winning this year. Drivers like Mark
Martin, who you’ve seen for years and
years being so good at saving his
equipment, don’t have as big of an
advantage anymore because the tires are
so much better.”
Clearly, this precipitous change has
hurt some and helped others. The biggest
loser is Jimmie Johnson. In the Chase
opener at Chicagoland, “Five-Time”
gambled on fuel mileage and lost,
running dry on the last lap and finishing
18th instead of second or third. Then, a
call for four tires instead of two buried
Johnson midpack in the closing stages of
the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
With just 18 laps to go, Johnson made an
ill-advised banzai pass attempt on
Newman for seventh place. Instead, he
crashed and finished 34th.
In the build up to the season climax, catch the crucial NASCAR news on
Kenseth is vocal in his hatred of gas-saving
and few disagree that full-on duels such
as Gordon vs. Johnson at Atlanta (LEFT)
provide a more satisfying end to a race.
(FAR LEFT) Cup sophomore Keselowski is
already adept at fuel-mileage racing, while
improved Goodyear tires (BELOW LEFT)
are what has made that skill so necessary.
in terms of strategy – gas only? Two-tire change? Four tires? There are only a couple of ways to change fuel mileage significantly: adjust he carburetor setting to run a leaner mixture is one. For the driver, it’s letting off the gas early and coasting through corners, sometimes even shutting the ngine off entirely, though that can be risky business. And the simple expedient of slowing down a little saves fuel, although obviously it carries with it the risk of getting passed.
“There are tricks that the drivers do to
save fuel,” says Carl Edwards of Roush
Fenway Racing. “Everybody has their own
tricks, I’m sure, and I’m not gonna tell
you any of mine! But I think they work.”
“I don’t care how hard you try, what
your technique is,” says four-time Sprint
With the game changed so radically,
more than ever, the pressure falls on
three parties: 1) The driver, to save as
much fuel as possible; 2) the pit crew, to
nail stops perfectly, especially the last
one; and, 3) the crew chief to be spot on