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Another gas mileage finish? What's the problem here? And when will Carl Edwards break his silence and tell us all what's up?

  Carl Edwards (L), here with team owner Jack Roush: Edwards is the NASCAR tour leader, and the sport's biggest question: will he leave Ford and Roush and move to Toyota and Joe Gibbs? When will somebody say something on the record about all this? (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern



   It was almost dark Sunday evening, and John and Mona were packing and polishing their black Saturn Sky convertible – car people here clearly -- for the drive back home to Cape Cod, after a weekend at the track here, their first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
   John was wearing a new Carl Edwards tee-shirt; Mona, a Jeff Gordon tee-shirt.
   Newcomers to NASCAR racing.

   The Boston market.
   People like John and Mona are NASCAR's newest customers.
   Will they be coming back to see more?
   Good question.
   The traffic was no real issue, and the midway carnival was a lot of fun.
   But they had questions:
    "We saw Jeff Gordon coming on strong there at the end….and then Carl Edwards too," John was saying, clearly a bit perplexed.
    "And then they just started backing off. What was that all about? Why weren't they all fighting door to door and all that?"
   Ah, yes. Very good question, John.
   And we've all been asking that question much too frequently the past several weeks – after too many gas mileage finishes. How many races lately have been gas mileage finishes? Too many, that's for sure.
   This is a sport built on lead-foots, not feather-foots.
   But too many times lately the winner has been the man doing the best job of conserving gas.

  Ryan Newman, making Victory Circle a family affair (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   NASCAR might be taking this 'green' thing too far.
   Or maybe we should just discard these gas-guzzling V-8s and race those eerily silent electric hybrids. At 50 mpg, gosh, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart could have made the New Hampshire 301 on just six gallons, instead of the usual 60 gallons or so. 
   John, at the quick explanation, replied sharply: "I hate the gas mileage racing. Granted that Carl Edwards is ahead in the point standings, but Carl should have been 1st, 2nd or 3rd in Loudon!"
   Maybe it's just Fate, so many 'Back off!' finishes as crew chiefs cajole drivers to stretch gas.
   Or maybe there's something else going on here.
   But fuel mileage finishes really aren't all that thrilling, except for aficionados.
   And if 'the customer is always right' should be NASCAR's marketing mantra, well, it sure looks like the sport has been off the mark lately, with that traffic mess at Kentucky and all these 'feather-foot' finishes.

   What is going on with all these fuel mileage races?
   One or two might be interesting…..but just about every race the past two months has been determined, one way or another, by fuel mileage.
   Remember the 600 at Charlotte, and all those guys running out in the final miles, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. running out in the third turn of the last lap?
   And the Chicago Nationwide race the following week…..cars running out right and left in the final miles.
   And Kansas, where Brad Keselowski used fuel mileage rather than horsepower…
   Michigan, the next week, was a gas mileage finish until Earnhardt blew a tire late.
   Don't forget that last season's championship itself might well have boiled down to fuel mileage at Phoenix….


  Winning crew chief Tony Gibson: the right gas mileage and tire strategy to key Ryan Newman in Sunday's New Hampshire 301. But too many gas mileage NASCAR finishes this summer? Why? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Yes, measuring gas mileage and making the right stops has long been part of racing.
   But this rash of fuel mileage finishes has become an epidemic.
   What's the deal here?

   Let's ask Sunday's winner, Ryan Newman:
   Why so many fuel mileage races?
   "Because we still carry fuel in the car," Newman quipped.
   Okay, let's try for something a little deeper here, please.
   Let's ask Tony Gibson, Sunday's winning crew chief.
   And the answer seems, somehow, to boil down to tires, perhaps ironically.
   Ever since the Brickyard tire issues in 2008 Goodyear has been on one of the most impressive tire development programs ever seen in this sport.
   Testing, testing.
   And new tires – or a tire combination new to the track – nearly every single week.
   Crew chiefs have been complaining about all the new tire combinations they have to deal with this season. And drivers too. (Though not too loudly, of course, because Goodyear is one of the sport's 'sacred cows,' and NASCAR officials have this willingness to hand out secret $50,000 penalties….)
   Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have taken the tire complaints to the next level, after Sunday's 301:
   "Every damn week they change the tire. We had a pretty good one here, but I guess the government is getting on 'em about how they build them, or something, and they had to bring a new one here. Some kind of new construction. I didn't like it. But we can figure it out and get a setup going and try to figure it out where it will drive good."

  What are the pit road strategies this season? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Certainly it may be hard for drivers to complain after the race about how the tires actually work. Sunday's tires were more grippy than last year's set up, hence nearly a dozen men breaking the track record in qualifying.
   But then race tactics kick in….
   "We were going to run as long as we could on our left-sides, to keep our track position," Gibson said. "So we had to do what everyone else was doing, if not a little bit less. We knew from watching the Nationwide race, and from our practice, that we could run a pretty good ways on our lefts."
   "Got to commend Goodyear," Newman added, breaking down the 301-lapper: "We did 150 laps on our lefts the first and second time. I think 75 each on the rights every time. A great Goodyear tire."
    So…..and here's another issue that may somehow need to be addressed (and not just at New Hampshire Motor Speedway): track position.
    Why in the world does track position still have to be such a major issue in this sport? Why can't drivers just go out and pass each other, like in the good ol' days?
   "Our strategy was to stay up front, and keep Ryan in clean air," Gibson said. "We knew if we could do that, we had a shot to win.
   "We gave up track position middle of the race to put four (tires) on. But we had to do whatever we had to do to keep our track position."
   So this sport is still a sport of track position…and fuel mileage?
   Will that bring John and Mona back to another track?
   Gibson says Newman "did an awesome job of saving fuel.
   "I never believed we were going to make it.
    "We were definitely a solid two to three laps short from making it.
    "I was hounding him on the radio; I'm sure he got tired of hearing it.
    "But it was time to showcase what he can do in driving and saving fuel.
     "Glad I didn't chicken out on him."
    Flash back to Dover in May, when crew chief Lance McGrew drew the ire of his driver Mark Martin for orders to stretch fuel and tires…..even though that strategy nearly won Martin the race.
    "It's just track position -- It forces you to do things you normally wouldn't do," Gibson says. "Take two (tires); stay out on fuel and gamble.
   "The reason we came to it here is because we knew if we pitted like when Tony Stewart and those guys did, there were going to be two or three guys that stayed out, like Brad Keselowski did at Kansas.
    "Somebody is going to stay out and roll the dice on fuel mileage and win it.
    "But Ryan, he's on me all the time: 'Dude, we're going to have to grow some here and win a race. The way to win it is to stay out.'"
    The win, remember, was Newman's first on the Sprint Cup tour since April 2010. And his U.S. Army sponsorship has been somewhat controversial up in Congress lately. (Plus the Army sponsorship is a relatively anemic $7 million a year….in a sport where top sponsorships run $20 million to $25 million.)
      "It's the thing you have to do…that's the way racing is today," Gibson says of these fuel mileage/track position races.
    But why?
    "I don't know why it's a fuel mileage deal," Gibson says. "Maybe the tires are better.
   "The tires don't give up as much as they used to give up, so you can stay out longer. And you're not giving up a lot of time staying out on fuel.
    "At a lot of these tracks, it's dictated by the tire more than anything."
    To which Newman adds "It's a Catch-22: We ask for a tire that will be safe and fall off (in speed), so then there's a reward to put four tires on so you can drive back to the front.
     "But it's tough to do that -- make it safe, make it so it doesn't blow out for the guys that aren't handling well or have the technology to understand the things about the tires.
      "There's a lot of demand on Goodyear.
     "Because they've been building tires that are safe, I think we've seen better, safer tires throughout the season. Therefore you're seeing more strategy -- more strategy with respect to fuel, because fuel is more of an issue than the tires are."

   Was it just a month or so ago that Tony Stewart was complaining that, as a Chevy driver, he felt that when he had to face off against these Fords "I feel like I'm bringing a knife to a gunfight."
   Stewart, who finished second to teammate Ryan Newman in Sunday's New Hampshire 301, has shown much better horsepower lately. His engines come out of Rick Hendrick's shops.
   Ironically, Hendrick's own men haven't been doing that well.


    Carl Edwards (L) and Kyle Busch: soon to be teammates? Might be an odd-couple, considering their run-ins.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   Carl Edwards is still holding his peace and saying nothing much about his contract negotiations with car owners Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs. And everyone involved is remaining pretty silent too.
   However if Edwards --  who has been the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour leader most of the season, and who goes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week as the points leader once again – does leave Roush at the end of the season, that would be the story of the season.
   Big enough for somebody to be asking questions…or at least trying to find some answers.
   And over the weekend speculation was rampant in the NASCAR garage at New Hampshire that Edwards has made his decision for 2012 and will indeed move from Roush's Ford team to Gibbs' Toyota team.

   Though this is all unconfirmed, this is the word, highly unofficial, from the garage:

   -- that Edwards will run for Gibbs in 2012;

   -- that Edwards will drive Gibbs' Home Depot-sponsored car, replacing Joey Logano;

   -- that Logano will move to a new fourth Gibbs Cup team, with sponsorship yet to be determined;

   -- that the move is from considerable pressure from Home Depot for Gibbs to get a driver who can go nose-to-nose with Lowe's-sponsored Jimmie Johnson, who has won five straight NASCAR championships;

   -- that Home Depot's sponsorship package for driver-team could be the most lucrative in NASCAR history, maybe as much as $40 million a season (for some – unofficial – comparison, Aflac's current driver-team sponsorship with Edwards-Roush is figured to be $27 million a year; for more comparison, the late Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup championship on a budget of $1.2 million);

   -- that an official announcement of Edwards-to-Gibbs could come at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during next week's Brickyard 400 weekend.

   Is this the real story? Nobody's confirming anything yet, or denying anything.



   Wonder what Kyle Busch (L) might be thinking about Joe Gibbs' (R) bid to sign Carl Edwards? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Some background here:

   -- Edwards-to-Gibbs, if true, would be the biggest driver story since Dale Earnhardt Jr. left DEI and joined Rick Hendrick for the 2008 season, and since Tony Stewart left Gibbs at the end of 2008 to start his own Cup team in 2009.

   -- In the 'what have you done for me lately?' department, since 2008 the Sprint Cup tour scorecard among owners looks like this:
      Joe Gibbs has won more Cup races than any other team owner, 34 victories; Rick Hendrick is second, with 30 victories; Jack Roush, third, with 22 victories. No one else is close to the Big Three.

   -- If Carl Edwards does move from the Jack Roush Ford camp to the Joe Gibbs Toyota camp, what would that say about Ford Motor Company, in losing one of its top drivers?

   -- And if Edwards does now command some princely salary, how will all the out-of-work fans – including those Kentuckians who spent good money but got stuck in all that traffic -- and out-of-work crewmen look at that?

   -- Footnote: Kyle Busch, who has been Gibbs' lead driver this season and who just won his 100th national NASCAR event over the weekend, last year signed a multi-year contract extension with Gibbs, believed to be four years with an option on a fifth year, that could keep Busch in Gibbs' cars through 2015. Sponsor Mars/M&Ms signed a sponsorship extension this year with Gibbs and Busch, which is figured to match the driver contract in season.


 Carl Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne: going to Indianapolis at the top of the NASCAR standings (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

If he moves shame on him. I

If he moves shame on him. I find it disgraceful that he would leave a team that made him what he is today for the almighty dollar!!! That is the problem with all pro sports NO LOYALTY I could deal with him leaving if it was to start his own team but leaving just for the money no way. This is just another nail in NASCARS coffin for me I have better things to do like watch grass grow I am just tired of it all.

I think the reason for the

I think the reason for the increase in fuel milage races is simple... It's the fuel. Beginning this season, NA$CAR switched to a 15% ethanol blend fuel. It is a scientific fact that every drop of ethanol blended with gasoline reduces fuel economy...I tried E85 once in my personal vehicle and experienced a 30% drop in fuel mileage from regular gas. Since the cars still carry the same amount of fuel, and the races are the same length, a 10% to 15% decrease in fuel economy makes a huge difference.

It's not just the new fans

It's not just the new fans that may not be back to a NASCAR race. I got tired of them real early this season and not only have decided to go to the Nashville Fairgrounds in stead of the Speedway this year, but the moment a race looks like a fuel milage race I find something else to do or watch. I have been posting on boards all this year that this looks more like the old Mobile Fuel Economy Run. That being said maybe NASCAR can have different classes like they did so that I could enter my 40+mpg Yaris. I already have had it over 110 at Talladega.

As for Edwards. Look at what Roush did to Burton when he switched teams and what he did to Busch when he switched teams (that ticket made for a great excuse). Jack seems to take these things personally and Edwards may be using some good sense, keeping his mouth shut. Another option is he's trying to get that last penny out of JGR. And a final option is that he really doesn't want to leave and is giving Jack every oppertunity to come up with a better (even if less than JGR's) offer.

""The tires don't give up as

""The tires don't give up as much as they used to give up, so you can stay out longer. And you're not giving up a lot of time staying out on fuel."

That's the correct answer right there. Remember Elliot Sadler winning at Bristol in 2001 and nearly making an entire fuel tank run during one portion of the race? That was unheard of then, especially on a track like Bristol where tires traditionally went away really fast. When the tires are "right", teams can play lots more strategy games. Pit or stay out? Two tires or four? It makes the race more interesting on two fronts to me: one being that it broadens the list of contenders (other than just the fastest 3-5 cars), and two, the spread out, boring racing at most of the tracks that produce fuel-mileage races suddenly gets more interesting. A fuel-mileage race is the only reason to watch the race at tracks like Michigan, Kansas, and other tracks that produce very lackluster racing.

The one thing that fuel mileage endings do tell us is that NASCAR isn't monkeying with the outcomes of the races. That's nice to know for race fans who either pay to get in to see the races, or those of us who invest lots of time to watch it on TV. The LAST thing I want to see as a fan is a phantom debris caution with 20 laps to go, and the TV crew can't find the debris or it's a piece of rubber way out of the racing groove that a caution never should have been thrown for. NASCAR claims that they don't ever do this, but it's painfully obvious to many fans when the field is spread out and they decide to play God and alter the outcome of the race by trhowing an unnecessary caution. If you want to have a rule like ASA used to have and have a competition caution after X number of green flag laps, then do so and tell everyone prior to the race that's what you're doing. But don't screw around with the racing by throwing bogus caution flags when the field gets spread out and you decide to tighten up the field for no real reason.

What Sadler did in 2001 was

What Sadler did in 2001 was unexpected but not unprecedented - in the two Hoosier Tire periods there were numerous races with cars running the whole race while skipping tire changes - example: in the 1994 Southeastern 500 (the race Sadler won seven years later) Geoff Bodine skipped at least two tire changes and was able to lead much of the middle portion of the race - a backmarker wreck during green flag stops trapped him a lap down and put Earnhardt into the lead for the last 183 laps.

We accuse NASCAR of a lot of things but never have I seen a scenario where they threw a fraud caution just to get a late restart - if that happened these fuel-mileage races would not happen at all. Also, why should NASCAR tell anyone beforehand if they're going to throw a caution? I've never understood this complaint that NASCAR would throw a competition yellow and crew chiefs would not be told beforehand so they could gameplan for the yellow - don't let teams be able to gameplan like that; make them have to decide on the fly.

During the tire war era, yeah

During the tire war era, yeah it happened, but since the tires were the same on all the cars nobody had seen a tire hold up like that at Bristol. It was another track notorious for using up tires in about 10 laps, and you were fresh meat if you didn't stop and get new tires when everyone else did. It seems now GoodYear can spec a tire to hold up for however long the fuel run is, so long as they bring it to the track.
You mean you've never watched a race where a "debris" caution comes out with 10-20 laps to go, with the field spread out, and the camera crew is searching everywhere for the "debris" and it is either nowhere to be found, or it's a piece of something in a place where nobody is going to run over it? You've obviously been watching racing a while, but your love to the powers at NASCAR must be giving you tunnel vision if you've never seen it happen or don't believe that the phantom caution has happened. Similar to Junior fans always believing that it was just a coincidence that the caution flag almost always flew just before he was going to get lapped.

There seemed to be lots of

There seemed to be lots of tire problems last weekend. Busch passed 20 cars in 20 laps but the bead melted. Is this why Stewart gets so upset when somebody races him hard? Will the tires not take real racing?

BK also melted a bead. He is agressive but it looked like the tire wouldn't let him race.

Jeff Gordon passed a lot of cars but without an alternator melted a bead. The tire couldn't take the temperature.

For all the talk about not being able to pass, Johnson, Gordon and Busch passed a lot of cars. Passing cars may be a prproblem with Nascar's rules. A nice safe Stewart style race has become too common.

Can Roush Racing guarantee

Can Roush Racing guarantee Carl the money he wants?
It is my understanding that Roush has only 3M sewed up for next year.
My guess is if Roush can secure a top dollar sponsor Carl would stay.
The alternative is that he announces he is leaving before The Chase, which would more than likely end his championship hopes for this year.
Remember how well Kurt Busch faired after he became a lame duck at Roush?

The dynamic duo, Brian and

The dynamic duo, Brian and Mike, have managed to take the racing out of auto racing in NASCAR. What we have today is the culmination of all of the rule changes they have made over the past several years. In reality just how many duels do we see for the lead under green flag conditions. Not many. Not counting green flag pit stops that create artificial lead changes, most lead changes occur during pit stops through no-tire, two tire decisions as opposed to 4 tires. Cautions are thrown to create close racing. I'm not talking about the infamous debri cautions. I'm talking about everytime someone scrapes the wall, or spins and keeps going. Add wave arounds and the free pass and you have the closest thing you can do to control the outcome of a race and make it artificially close. So how does gas mileage racing make it any different? It's no long a race, inless you are Kyle Busch, it's a show. In fact they should have it their ads " For entertainment purposes only, any resemblence to a real auto race is strictly coincidental".

To the smarter thing for Home

To the smarter thing for Home Depot to do is to sponsor Carl with the team he has at Roush Fenway!

I mean Carl is doing well, and really dont think the egos will match at Gibbs with Kyle Busch as well!

Now were all remember Carl said it was about performance not the money, so we will see!!!!! Seems he has performance!

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