Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Fuel Mileage, Jimmie Johnson’s Chances & Those Other Championship Battles

What should NASCAR do about an increasing number of fuel-mileage races?

This year’s Chase field is one of the deepest since the start of the playoff format. Going into the final 10 races, fans and media members could reel off a list of 10 drivers who had just as good of a chance as the next to claim the Sprint Cup.

And while through the first two Chase races we’ve seen the parity we’ve all expected, we’ve seen fuel mileage take center stage … and a driver who failed to win a race in the first 26 events take advantage of the situation to claim two victories. Fuel-mileage racing has certainly jumbled up the points standings and turned great days into poor ones and visa versa, but the last-lap excitement it provides has divided fans.

On one side you have the fans that accept fuel-mileage racing for what it is – a product of this era of NASCAR racing, but for every fan that takes a fuel-mileage race in stride and enjoys it the same as the last, you have those fans that claim that it is ruining the racing and hindering what would be an exciting Chase.

See also
Going Green: Nothing Wrong With Fuel Strategy

I get it. Fuel-mileage racing sucks. Most often it is caused by a long green-flag run, at about the time fans are gearing up for what they hope is an exciting finish. Cars are cruising around conserving fuel, concerning themselves more about pace than racing their competition.

But what can be done? Has Goodyear made their tires too good? Should we be calling for more tire fall off throughout a run? Should NASCAR throw a mandatory caution at the end of the race and set up a shootout to the finish? The answer to both is, no. While it would nice to see tires “go” quicker throughout a run, this is what we’ve been asking for.

For years fans complained about NASCAR throwing debris cautions at the end of the race to spice up the finish, but as soon as they stop, those same fans complain about how boring the races are. This is simply a byproduct of today’s racing. It may not be the best it’s been, but it’s still been an exciting year. Not every race will end in fuel mileage. You’ll have fuel-mileage races that end with long green flag runs; you’ll have races that end in green-white-checkered. Not every race can be a classic. But any race can.

Is this weekend Jimmie Johnson’s final hope at a sixth consecutive championship?

Sitting in his lowest career Chase position, Jimmie Johnson is quickly running out of time if he wants to win a sixth championship. With eight races remaining, and Johnson 10th in points (29 points out), Dover will now be the tell-tale race for the No. 48 team.

It’s no secret that Johnson owns Dover. The Monster Mile has been tamed by the No. 48 on six occasions, including an additional eight top fives and 13 top 10s, but never has Johnson been in this position heading to what is widely considered his best track. He doesn’t necessarily need to win this weekend, but Johnson needs to prove to himself and the team that a poor start to the Chase is not indicative of what’s to come over the final eight races.

This will be the perfect race to gauge where this team is at this point of the season. Johnson has won the last two Chase races at Dover and has a car that should finish in the top five, no questions asked.

But if for some reason the No. 48 is not even a top-five car this weekend, you can all but take Johnson’s name off the list of championship contenders. This team has been so strong at this track for so long, that anything short of a top-five finish could ultimately be the nail in the coffin. And given the fact that the Chase Dover race has been won by a Chase driver every year since the playoff format’s inception, anything outside of the top five will ultimately put Johnson in a bigger hole.

I’m not saying if he wins Dover he’s instantly a favorite for another championship – he would simply survive to race another weekend – but if he struggles even in the least bit, it’s over.

Why the lack of attention on the Nationwide and Truck series championship battles?

For all of the talk about the Chase and the tight Sprint Cup points battle, over in the Nationwide and Truck series there are quite the championship battles of their own. With six races remaining in both series, the points battles are close enough that they should certainly be talked about more than there are. On the Nationwide side you have young gun Ricky Stenhouse Jr. holding off former Sprint Cup regular Elliott Sadler by a mere 14 points.

One poor race by Stenhouse and even Reed Sorenson could get into the action, currently 47 points out. But even the Nationwide battle pales in comparison to the fight on the Truck Series side. Four drivers are currently within 25 points of the points lead, while future stars Austin Dillon and James Buescher are separated by a mere two points.

The Cup Series is bound to get most of the attention from the mainstream media because it’s obviously the biggest of the three series. But with a mere six races remaining, even fans who follow strictly Sprint Cup should be introduced to the likes of Stenhouse, Dillon, Buescher and Timothy Peters. These two series are having down to the wire battles without a Chase format and should be followed as closely as what’s happening on the Sprint Cup side. Cut down on all of the talk of fuel-mileage racing, driver feuds and driver/media feuds and let’s talk about what matters most … racing, regardless of series.

Who is Sunday’s sleeper?

If it wasn’t for a one-lap deduction at Chicagoland, Matt Kenseth would be right in the thick of this championship battle. The No. 17 team rebounded with a sixth-place showing at New Hampshire and is back to within 26 points of the series lead. It’s a jumbled mess between fifth and 10th in the standings, but a solid finish by Kenseth would put him back solidly in the top five.

He’s had a strong first two races, won at Dover in May and averages just over a 12th-place finish at the Monster Mile. Kenseth was widely considered a sleeper for the championship and was quickly dismissed after a rules infraction on the final lap at the Chase opener, ending a great day. Suddenly he’s creeping back, and with a good finish on Sunday (Oct. 2) he would be right in thick of the fight, going for a second championship.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via