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Another gas mileage finish? Tony Stewart wins the gamble, but what the heck is going on this season with all these feather-foot NASCAR races?

  Races can be won or lost on pit road...in a lot of different ways. Monday, it was gas mileage (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern


   JOLIET, Ill.
   Another gas mileage finish on Monday…after another rainout Sunday.
   Frustration on the NASCAR stock car trail? You'd better believe it.  
   Now Tony Stewart may be wildly celebrating his Chicago 400 victory, his first tour win in almost a year. But as NASCAR's championship playoff lead-off event, this thing certainly wasn't much of the sizzler this sport needed to kickoff the Sprint Cup chase.

   However for Stewart this win was sweet revenge, for last year's chase lead-off at Loudon, N.H., where he ran out of gas while leading in the closing miles – a faux pas that all but ended his title chances.
   If Monday's 400 is any indication of what to expect during the chase, well, this could be a very unpredictable few weeks ahead. The finishing miles of this race were topsy turvy.

   Both Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb insisted they weren't thinking about last fall's gamble in New Hampshire when they made their winning call Monday.
   And Grubb insisted "It wasn't a gamble.  It's the way the race laid out and the cautions fell. 
   "That was the lap we had to pit on. 
   "It was not a gamble; it's a call that had to be made, considering the laps that were run."
   In fact Stewart and Grubb both made their winning tactics seem downright logical. And then Stewart made the odd comment that he felt his team had to make something happen here, to get back in the title game.

    Tony Stewart: first tour win in nearly a year. And maybe now he'll stop haranguing the press (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Yes, this is only the first race of the 10-race chase, but Stewart and Grubb haven't been contenders to win many races this season, and only a few weeks ago Stewart insisted he wasn't even a legitimate title contender, as erratic as things were going for his team.
   This time, well, all Stewart's rivals seemed to give the race away.
   This 400 itself was pretty straightforward, and uneventful. The drama at the end was waiting to see who would run out of fuel and who could make it.
   The day's big loser was probably Matt Kenseth, who started from the pole, had a winning car, tried saving gas the final run, but still ran out. He wound up a disappointed 21st.
   Kenseth was leading with 40 miles to go when his crew told him he had to back off to save gas and he had to give Stewart the lead.
    "I don't know what to do about the fuel mileage," Kenseth said. "It is really 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."

    Matt Kenseth: he had the best car down the stretch, but he ran out of gas and wound up 21st (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   In the final miles Kenseth suffered the indignity of, while leading, being told to back off and give Stewart the lead, while trying to save enough fuel to finish.   
   "Yeah, and we still ran out with a half a lap or lap to go," Kenseth griped.
    "It is not a great definition of racing.
    "But how are you going to fix it? I don't know how to fix it.
    "It is frustrating. You do all that work and for nothing.
     "There were so many races this year that have been like that -- where the guy running half-throttle, or pitting off sequence or whatever, has won.
     "I wish they could figure out how to fix it, because it is not a lot of fun."
    Kenseth, after running out, got a last lap push from a fellow driver to make it to the finish line eighth, but NASCAR ruled that push illegal and dropped him back to 21st.

   Jimmie Johnson was in command much of the second half of the race, but he ran out of gas with about two miles to go, while running third. He finished 10th: 
   "I can’t complain too much, because the car in victory lane has same power, same everything.
    "My driving style, I've never been all that good with fuel mileage. You've certainly seen me run out at other times.
    "We certainly had a great race car, and it's just too bad we ran out coming to the white flag.
   "We had great speed, just one lap short on fuel."
    Teammate Jeff Gordon, who has been strong the last few weeks, didn't have much to show Monday. And then he too ran out of gas, finishing 24th.
    "We were just off….and we didn't qualify good, that got us behind," Gordon said. "Then we had a right-front (tire) tear apart.
    "We actually got the car halfway decent at the end. Then it came down to saving fuel, and we obviously didn't save enough fuel."
    However teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. played the end-game just right and finished third.
    And Kevin Harvick too played things right and finished second, to take the championship points lead heading this week to Loudon, N.H.

    A number of Sprint Cup races this season have come down to fuel mileage rather than door-to-door racing.
   And that hasn't set well with many in the sport.
   Kyle Busch, for example, ran out of gas with four laps to go and dropped from seventh to 22nd, and that cost him the Sprint Cup tour points lead.
    Stewart agreed: "You hate to have to play the fuel mileage game.  But that's just the way the caution came out. 
   "We came in and got fuel, and Darian told me we had to save a lap's worth of fuel.
   "We had a whole run to do it.  But we kept a lot of pressure on Matt, and finally got by him. And once we got out to a second and a half to two second lead we could start backing off to their pace and start saving fuel.
    "I felt I'd saved enough to get us to the end.  But we came off turn two after we got the checkered, the fuel pressure was down to two pounds, and it stayed there until just shortly after we picked up the checkered flag (to celebrate) at the flag stand.
   "We didn't do any wild burnout…and we ran out before we ever got on pit road.
    "So we were closer than I wanted to be. 
     "But we didn't have anything to lose -- where we're at in the chase right now, we had to press."
     Kenseth's team owner Jack Roush was among many not pleased to see the lead-off chase race come down to gas mileage: "It is a shame when these races come down to fuel mileage.
    "It is a shame when you get rained out.
    "(But) those things are realities."
    While Kenseth had to potentially winning car only to run out, teammate Carl Edwards managed to come home fourth.
    How close was Stewart? Well teammate Ryan Newman ran out the final lap: "We got a top-10 out of it…ran out coming off turn two.
    "Got past Jimmie, when I think he ran out coming to the white.
     "It was kind of a crazy deal, but we were still able to capitalize."



Jimmie Johnson, with wife and daughter. Not a great day for Johnson and the rest of the guys trying to stretch gas mileage (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


NASCAR needs to go back to

NASCAR needs to go back to the 22 gallon fuel cells. The combination of the smaller full cells and the Ethanol blended gas is causing short fuel runs.

Also, it's ridiculous that the 17 can push a car to victory the entire last lap at Daytona, but is penalized for getting a push for less than a whole lap for just a top 10.

Tandem racing or bump

Tandem racing or bump drafting is not the same as pushing a disabled vehicle across the finish line.

Additonally, 22 gallon fuel

Additonally, 22 gallon fuel cells did not stop fuel mileage races. Plenty of factors are involved in causing a fuel mileage race, including timing of yellows, handling characteristics, and aerodynamics.

One way to certainly have more pit stops would be to go back to bias ply tires. I seriously doubt you'd want to see that.

If these fuel milage races do

If these fuel milage races do not soon stop you have lost a 30+ year fan.
They need to consider stopping the race 30 or so laps from the end, make everyone pit 5 minutes of so then restart in same order as they stopped. Have a shoot out to the end.

Then why bother running the

Then why bother running the rest of the race?

It is completely impossible

It is completely impossible to take fuel mileage out of these races, unless you have a fuel tank that can hold 400-500 miles worth of fuel. Fuel mileage has always been a part of racing and always will be.

Fuel mileage is just one issue of the overall strategy of a race for any team. Take F1, for example, as some teams opt for 2 stops while others opt for 3 stops to lessen the fuel load and making their cars lighter and faster. That is the strategy laid out pre-race. NASCAR road racing is yet another example as teams work their strategy out backwards from the end of the race and base their pit stops and fuel calculations from that aspect. A car's handling has a direct correlation to its fuel mileage, which is also an obvious strategy to win races.

I'd much rather see this than the debacle is that restrictor plate "racing". Matt's complaint is falling on deaf ears. Every race won't be a shootout or a fuel mileage contest. Individual races are what they are and should be enjoyed for the strategies employed, skill and determination of the racers, and the thrill of watching them play on the edge.

If anyone truly has any complaints about the race, it should be about the coverage. There are so many races within a race that the TV just can't and won't cover. Nothing beats watching a race live.

I know with the newer cars

I know with the newer cars NASCAR reduced the size of the fuel tanks and I don't know the statistics of fuel mileage finishes...but I really don't see a way to fix it. The tanks can be made bigger, the drivers will just run further, and you're back to fuel mileage. I don't think tank size is the issue..it boils down to cautions , driving style, fuel management, and luck. One could say ALL races come down to those four things..if it's not fuel mileage it's cautions, missing wrecks, driver ability, and strategy. I just don't buy this whining about fuel mileage..it's all part of racing.

Go slow and win, that will

Go slow and win, that will fit into Danica's talents. Even a blind squirrel....

Drivers and crews do not know

Drivers and crews do not know what to do about fuel mileage races? Everyone drives the same distance and everyone has fuel cans in the pits. For the teams that don't choose to use those fuel cans, then its a fuel mileage problem. NASCAr doesn't need to make the field stop or some other rule change to make the end of the race better. The teams that want to run full throttle can go to the pits and put fuel in. Those that don't, well they can coast to a stop on the last lap or so.

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