Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: To Save or Not to Save

One of the biggest stories regarding the 2024 Daytona 500 was the extreme fuel strategy that occurred throughout the majority of the day.

Drivers had reported running at as little as 50% throttle under green instead of racing. At one point, AJ Allmendinger was running down the lead pack by himself. Even more ludicrous was the fact that he had been running them down by as much as two seconds per lap.

See also
Tuesday Morning Pit Box: Kyle Busch Burnt by Pit Road Gaffes in Daytona 500

Since the checkered flag fell, drivers have expressed their disappointment in the lack of racing in favor of saving fuel.

“This is probably to the extreme,” Erik Jones said after the race. “I wish there was something we could do about it, but it’s definitely frustrating.”

Jones wasn’t the only driver with frustrations. Denny Hamlin, Noah Gragson, Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace have all gone on record stating their frustration with the extreme fuel saving that occurred throughout much of the race.

Elton Sawyer, senior vp of competition for NASCAR, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that NASCAR was going to look into the fuel saving.

“Ultimately, we want to drop the green flag on the race and they’re racing as hard as they can until they drop the checkered flag,” Sawyer said. “There’s some strategy in between there, and we will definitely take a much deeper dive into this particular situation and the strategy that goes into it.”

Fuel mileage has always been a part of the culture of trying to win NASCAR races. Even the Daytona 500 has seen awesome fuel mileage finishes before, most recently in 2017 when Kurt Busch outlasted the likes of Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott to win it.

However, the frustration in fuel mileage is the slow pace that can be set. It’s one thing to save on a track such as Charlotte Motor Speedway by lifting earlier in the corner than one normally would to save fuel intermittently. But on a track like Daytona International Speedway, running half throttle for 190 laps doesn’t really promote racing at all — especially in a marquee event like the Daytona 500.

See also
Did You Notice?: 2024 Daytona 500 What-Ifs

If there was any bright side to the nature of trying to save fuel the whole time, up until around 10 laps to go, there was only one caution for cause in the first 475 miles, which was for a big accident on lap 6. Following that, the typical train racing that fans are accustomed to on superspeedways dominated the majority of the afternoon and evening.

Can NASCAR fix the fuel saving to allow something like that in the future? On non-superspeedways, the way drivers save fuel seems harmless, and the way stages line up on most tracks, the need for fuel saving is slim. On superspeedways, however, the stages typically end just after a fuel run, which is why drivers would rather save fuel to minimize pit stops during the stage.

Some people, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., have theorized that shortening the length of stages one and two could allow drivers to make it through stages without even having to stop, meaning the notion of saving fuel wouldn’t have to happen. Others have suggested implementing a fourth stage on superspeedways, with similar reasoning to Earnhardt’s.

Then there’s the ever-strong camp of fans who would rather not see stage cautions at all. While they are indifferent about awarding stage points after a certain lap, getting rid of stage cautions and letting the drivers race the full distance and letting natural cautions fall where they may could be one of the better solutions to this issue.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: More of the Same & a Late Winning Shot

In a world that is completely driven by data and statistics, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if NASCAR was able to track throttle control to the point where if drivers go below a certain percentage of throttle (say, 80%), then a penalty could be issued. That way fuel saving is still encouraged, but the race pace doesn’t slow to a crawl.

It’d be very difficult to outright ban fuel saving; it’d be way too difficult to enforce. But there might be a way to limit it when it comes to big races such as the Daytona 500. And with Talladega Superspeedway having somewhat similar stage lengths, one can only wonder if we’ll see more of the same extreme fuel-saving tactics there, too.

And that is probably why NASCAR is taking the initiative now to investigate and see what it can do before we head to the next superspeedway race at Talladega in April. While Atlanta Motor Speedway is technically a superspeedway race now since its repave, to see as extreme fuel-saving measures for at a 1.54-mile venue would be pretty surprising.

We’ve waited all offseason to go fast. It’s not too surprising people, particularly drivers, are upset by starting off the season … well, rather slow.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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.

8 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JD Brewski

A race is not 100% about speed – it is the first to the finish line after a set distance. Your strategy to get there could be to go balls to the wall (not dirty – a reference in a bomber when the throttles are pushed all the way forward to the firewall) and have to make more stops or pace yourself to save fuel and less stops. The artificial stage breaks are the core problem and should go away – points can stay. The other thing that would work would to bring a tire that has enough drop off that they become part of the strategy as well.

wildcatsfan2016

Totally agree! When the tire wore normally, the driver and the team needed to be able to adapt. It made for far more interesting racing than this – we can ride around forever until we need to fuel the car again plus stage cautions which interfere with fuel mileage as a component of the strategy too.

Bill B

Either get rid of the cautions at the end of the stage or make the stages 1.5 miles of a fuel run. That way everyone has to pit once during the stage and there is no way to stretch a fuel run that far to the end. Of course, as with any track, if a legitimate caution falls with a little more miles left than a fuel run, it’s going to become a fuel mileage race.

Joshua Farmer

Kill stage racing but award points. Again make the season about the SEASON long champion. The emulation of other sports hasn’t worked a bit in attracting and retaining fans except a small group of attention deficited GenZ’s.

DoninAjax

So why didn’t drivers pull out to pass? If the leaders are going that slow it would be easy and force them to speed up! They’d use up their tires more too.

Bill B

Maybe not if the time of an extra pit stop is greater than the time lost to driving around at half-throttle. I have no idea what that breakeven point is but it’s basically a math exercise.
Because I think the crew chiefs are pretty sharp, I’d wager the time of an extra pit stop was greater than the time lost to running around under speed.

DoninAjax

There was one pit stop due for each segment. The lead for the breakaway car(s) would more than make up for the extra fuel. Chances are if one broke away others would follow and screw up the strategy to save fuel. What is the point of doing what everybody else is doing. They would all just end up together in a jumble.

JayBanks

The issue is mainly the Draft and pack racing that’s been happening for almost 30 years. We have seen many attempts to solve this problem half heartedly because NASCAR knows that 20-40 cars in a wad at 185 where anything can go wrong and anyone can win is exciting.

The drivers/teams have just found a smarter way to play the game even if they don’t like it.

The lead car can run 100% and the cars behind can progressively be at 80-70-60-50% throttle giving no advantage to be the leader or make passes, just let him run himself out. We all know that strategy well… So now the lead car says ok I’m gonna run 60-50%, what do you guys wanna do and no one decides to take it, because if they do, they go no where with any advantage other than a clearer windshield.

The only time this strategy breaks up is when the packs break up smaller usually after pit stops, but then eventually when 2 packs form up your back to the same issue. NASCAR in its own rules discourages this breakup with the stages and seemingly staged/competition cautions from time to time to make any work for gains go for not.

Although Allmendinger was running faster solo than the pack, that’s just because he was irrelevant at that point.

The current state of NASCAR the only way to make guys push 100% is basically award a point to the leader of the race at Daytona, Talladega and maybe Atlanta after every lap. Sounds really dumb, but that’s 200 bonus points available last week, which after enough laps led could be worth more than finishing the race and hoping for attrition or strategy to play out for those racing in the standings. For the limited schedule guys, nothing changes.

Formula1 has created their own issue with no fueling that teams now under fuel the car and try to save a large amounts of fuel during the race without losing significant lap time on each other for carrying the fuel weight… and when all teams are playing the same game it gets rather ridiculous.

Share via