NASCAR

Fuel-mileage racing becomes the norm

Clint Bowyer celebrates after running his car nearly empty to win Charlotte.
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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The way these NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are racing now, the way teams have figured this fuel-mileage strategy out, it just seems like even the racetracks themselves are lending themselves to fewer cautions and that’s creating more races where that is the determining factor.

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I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that the best car has won every one of these races because of the way the fuel mileage has played out with the green-flag pit stops. You find out who’s ready and who’s not, and who is understanding the big picture. I’m talking about – I’ll focus in on him –Jeff Gordon.

I was really high on that group and Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team having fast race cars, but Jeff making a mistake speeding on pit road at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday night definitely dug a hole for him.

He had a great opportunity to gain some points in Charlotte and he let it slip through his fingers and could have inadvertently put himself in position that you say, "Well no matter how good he is, it’s going to take a miracle to get him back in this Chase." Someone’s going to say, “Well Jeff, he only lost eight more points.” I think that’s huge. I do.

He was on a roll, then lost points and is now 50 points behind leader Brad Keselowski with five races to go. That’s going to hurt him.

When you look at what Greg Biffle did Saturday night, he and his Roush Fenway Racing team have got a different philosophy right now. They’re not worried about fuel mileage.

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They are going to worry about trying to lay down fast laps and, if they have to make an extra stop, hopefully be far enough ahead where they can rally if they don’t get a caution and still put themselves in position when these guys are riding around saving fuel to be able to run them down.

Still, in terms of managing fuel mileage, people have stepped up. The Joe Gibbs Racing teams have stepped up. They lost a bunch of points at Dover when they had to stop unexpectedly and then at Charlotte they had that better under control. Not that they have the thing 100 percent figured out, but Denny Hamlin was able to match the leaders on fuel mileage and outdistance Jimmie Johnson as well as Brad Keselowski in the end and pick up some points.

If you are going to run this Chase for the Sprint Cup and win this Chase, you are going to have to have the ability to save some fuel and make it go when it matters the most.

Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski

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