Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: EFI Resetting Our Expectations for NASCAR

Life used to be much simpler. If something turned off, you reached for the switch and turned it back on. Easy. I’m thinking that thought may have been flitting through Tony Stewart‘s mind as he sat on pit road flipping the ignition switch on his No. 14 over and over, with nothing happening.

Granted, it’s always been difficult to get a car re-fired after it ran out of fuel, but if you ever wondered if there was going to be a learning curve with the new EFI, the answer is clearly yes. I couldn’t help but chuckle as Tony’s crew member climbed in the passenger window to fiddle with the new bit of circuitry mounted on the dashboard and the camera tried to focus on the only bit of action to be found around the No. 14 car at the moment – a man’s hand as he reset the popped circuit breaker.

Couldn’t you almost hear the conversation?

“Hit the ignition.”

“I did, you idiot! What do you think I’ve been doing here? It won’t turn back on.”

“Are you sure?”


“Did you wait five seconds?”

You see the rolling eyes, short huff of breath and the muttered, “onetwothreefourfive” in rapid fire before his glove tries once again. At this point, if there wasn’t a five-point harness holding him down, you’d think Tony would’ve been jumping up and down in his seat. I doubt his head could hit the steering wheel, either.

At least in the past not only did the viewing audience get to watch a team clamber around the pits in near panic as they grabbed the ether can, crossed their fingers, hit a handy piece of sheetmetal and generally prayed to the racing gods for their machine to refire, but it gave the team something to do as well. Now it’s a little more like a visit to the Geek Squad.

“So, tell me, what’s it doing?”

“Not working.”

“What do you mean, exactly.”

“I hit the button and nothing happens.”

Kevin Harvick, in his post-race Q&A referred to the restart process as, “a procedure that looks like a video game.” It’s all voodoo to those of us at home watching on TV and apparently even to those following the checklist.

I probably wouldn’t have given any real credence to the idea of EFI affecting the outcome of the race if there weren’t further incidents of odd-looking fuel-mileage quirks in Phoenix. In days gone by a car would run out of gas, wiggle, sputter and just about stop. Harvick’s No. 29 apparently emptied its tank on the final lap, but didn’t stop. He sort of kept rolling, just not with any kind of competitive speed. That’s something else that’s new. The car will simply cut power when it has no more gas, to save the engine.

Pretty cool! But definitely different. My eyes are going to need a whole new set of guidelines to determine exactly what’s happening on the track.

And talk about anti-climactic, Denny Hamlin won! He freakin’ won at the track that took away an entire championship in a fuel-mileage run (cue Alanis Morrisette’s “Isn’t that Ironic?”) He rolls down the frontstretch, throws his car into gear, stands on the gas. His No. 11 begins the expected burnout … and dies.

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I looked for the telltale trail of smoke from under the hood or out the pipes. Nothing. Actually, he just kind of sat there all quiet and still. The FOX crew muttered among themselves for a few seconds, decided the car was out of gas and began to talk about something else. The camera started to pull back. We might’ve been going to commercial, as clearly the FedEx Office machine was destined to be pushed to victory lane. Ah! Not so fast. Suddenly the engine refired and DW declared, “He reset the system and got it refired.”

Reset. Like reboot? Ah, so NASCAR has actually entered the 21st century at long last. Like the televisions, phones and laptops that we all watch our favorite sport on, the cars finally have little computers in them capable of mucking up an afternoon to a fair-thee-well. They freeze. Anybody wondering of it’s not just EFI gumming up the works, but possibly a Windows operating system as well?

It’s called progress, folks. And in NASCAR lingo, change for consistency’s sake. But never fear, I’m sure in a very short amount of time Jeff Hammond will have all new circuitry diagrams available on his cool new electronic cut-away car to explain to us exactly what just happened. At least I hope somebody will. Until then, I’ll be wishing for the good ol’ days where a broken part meant you could hold it in two hands.

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.

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