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Ryan Newman has this qualifying thing down pretty well, and he's a favorite now for Round 2 of the playoffs

 Ryan Newman didn't let all those thunderstorm clouds get to him. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

 By Mike Mulhern



   Ryan Newman is right back where he was when he left here in July, at the head of the field.
   Tony Stewart's teammate dodged the rain drops to win the pole Friday for Sunday's second race of the NASCAR playoffs, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he won from the pole two months ago.

   And Newman has the same car here again.
   That, plus Stewart's somewhat surprising win at Chicago Monday, and Stewart's strong run at Atlanta two weeks ago, may all work to the advantage of those two teams as NASCAR's championship chase continues.
   But it is the threat – make that fear – of yet another gas mileage race here in Sunday's New Hampshire 300 that is the hot topic.
   Sunday's 300-miler is widely expected to have drivers feather footing to the finish line, conserving fuel. In fact that's been the determining factor the last two races here. And it was the determining factor in Monday's Chicago 400.
     The reason: the tires Goodyear provides this season are so good they hardly wear out. So gas mileage has become more important than fresh tires, because fresh tires don't typically provide any more speed.
     So teams are going over numerous secret game plans for stretching fuel.
     Goodyear officials are somewhat amused at getting heat for tires that some insist are just too good.
     But as Kasey Kahne said Friday "you need to have tires that wear out, if you want to have good racing."
    And he's not alone in that sentiment.
    But a tire that wears out also has a risk of blowing out, and Goodyear doesn't like that of course.
    And without any late cautions, races have turned into fuel mileage battles more often than not this season.
    Fewer cautions?
    Kyle Busch says that's because these cars, as designed in part, "are just harder to spin out.
    "The old cars were a lot easier to spin out….you could get under the back of somebody and jack them up. 
    "These cars, the bumpers line up. 
     "Unless you want to see more 'debris cautions' at the end of races, then really there's no way to fix it. 
      "It's just a product of what you've got."
     Then Jeff Gordon was asked if it wasn't simply obvious to everyone that gas mileage races are not the type of racing that the sport of NASCAR racing was built on….So how to fix the problem and cut down on these gas mileage finishes?
    "Yeah, that's a good question," Gordon responded slowly.
     "You know it's not probably preferable….but again, it depends on how exciting a finish it is.
     "Sometimes if somebody is able to make it and others aren't, that can be pretty exciting. It's a heck of a challenge. Plus who is to say the caution doesn't come out and really wind things up even more: 'Wow! That was a lot of drama.'
    "As long as it's an exciting race to finish….
    "The problem is when it goes all the way to the finish and it's somewhat predictable; then it's not very exciting.
     "Last week I don't think anybody really knew who was going to make it.
     "How do you fix it? I don't know.
     "The smaller fuel cells hasn't done it. I'm not so sure the bigger ones aren't better.
      "Then you've got a point with the tires. Goodyear continues to improve the tires…as we get the cars handling better and get some of the weight shifted off the right side of this car.
    "A little bit more tire wear I definitely think is a good thing.
     "It's a fine line obviously for Goodyear. I think they want that to happen (tires wearing out); but they obviously don't want to have tire failures, so they have to be very careful.
     "We went to Bristol (in the spring), and I think they picked the right tire for the race…but they had to pull it, because they were seeing excessive wear, and they couldn't take that chance, even though I think it would have been fine.
    "So they are in tough position.
      "Here's the thing -- it all just comes down to cautions. It's just when the caution falls.
      "It doesn't matter if you have a five-gallon fuel cell or a 55-gallon fuel cell, if the caution doesn't come out, it's a fuel-mileage race.
     "That's what we need to go back and look at.
     "If NASCAR doesn't want to see it come down to fuel mileage, then let us run a little longer under caution before they open up the pits. That will solve that."
       Will this year's NASCAR championship come down to fuel mileage racing?
       Newman says yes: "Yes, fuel mileage is going to be a part of who the champion is…because it already has been.
      "Everybody's fuel mileage is a little bit different. I might have a fuel mileage situation, and like last week Tony Stewart didn't.
      "Jeff Gordon might have a fuel mileage situation, and Jimmie Johnson doesn't.
       "I commend Goodyear because we have better tires this year…and that is putting more pressure on the fuel mileage situation….because coming in for tires because somebody blew one out -- and the fuel mileage is no longer an issue."
       It is more than merely academic of course. And one question NASCAR executives must ponder now is this: suppose the championship is on the line in the final miles of the Homestead finale….and that turns out to be a gas mileage finish, like the Charlotte 600, or Kansas 400, or Chicago 400, or any of a number of recent races. It may be fair to have the Sprint Cup championship decided that way….but it certainly wouldn't be real NASCAR racing.

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