Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should NASCAR Make Changes to Deter Fuel Saving at Talladega?

While not technically a crown jewel race, the two annual events at Talladega Superspeedway are among the most anticipated contests of the season. They’re races that have come to define NASCAR: high speeds, drafting and wide-open competition.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad. The field spent most of the day on Sunday (April 21) below half throttle in an effort to save fuel and navigate the stage breaks. The fallout has been far and wide from some of the most influential and important voices in the industry. But was it really that big of a deal?

This week Joy Tomlinson and Wyatt Watson take a look at what has people so riled up in 2-Headed Monster.

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No Changes Needed

NASCAR shouldn’t need to make any changes for the fall playoff Talladega race.

For one, it’s in the playoffs. It’s bad enough that we have two superspeedway-type races in the playoffs, but changes would force teams to have to make more adjustments to their cars, rather than go off of what was run in the spring.

The cars racing at half throttle produced more pack-like racing, which was thrilling and exciting. Aside from when cars made pit stops, most of the time they were running double and triple file. What would you rather have: cars racing close together, or a choo-choo train single line of cars running the top lane? I’d rather have similar to what we saw Sunday.

Additionally, not being forced to run wide-open can allow for varying pit strategies at superspeedways. The crew chiefs can choose to do the opposite of what their competitors do, or they can align with the same manufacturer and pit at the same time. 

It reminds me of Bristol Motor Speedway where there was much more tire falloff than expected, but that just made the racing and strategies that much better.

Plus, Sunday saw several drivers and teams make mistakes on pit road, which also threw wrenches in the crew chiefs’ plans. 

For example, Daniel Suarez sped on pit lane in stage one and decided to return to pit road for four tires just before the pits closed. It looked like this strategy would’ve put him on track for a top 10 by the end of the race, but he was caught up in the big crash on the last lap.

One thing Daniel Hemric mentioned after the race was that “even with the fuel saving, you got to have a fast enough racecar to save more fuel.” So, if anything, the teams themselves need to make adjustments to find an edge over others.

This type of racing is different from any other that we’ve seen with previous racecar generations. That’s what makes it so good, though; no one expected for this to happen with the Next Gen car.

What’s wrong with things being a little different? 

Besides, NASCAR should focus more on continuing to improve the safety of the Next Gen as well as update the short track and road course package. Talk about boring. That first Martinsville Speedway race in 2022 was a snoozer!

But NASCAR realizes that and is making the changes it feels is best for those races. 

As far as superspeedway racing goes, the series should refrain from changing anything about the car. If I had to think of one thing it could adjust, it would be the length of the stage breaks. Let the last one be much longer than the first two. 

Other than that, NASCAR shouldn’t make any adjustments for superspeedways that isn’t safety related. – Joy Tomlinson

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Improves in Talladega, Strange Choices Remain

NASCAR Needs a New Superspeedway Formula

While there were plenty of different leaders in last week’s Cup Series race at Talladega (72 lead changes among 23 drivers, the most in the Next Gen era), many are becoming less and less interested in this style of racing. How could that be given those gaudy numbers?

First and most importantly, the fuel-saving game is a major cause for the problem we are seeing with today’s superspeedway racing. Since both the spring and the fall race had both the same number of cautions (four) with only two extra caution laps between the two (21 laps in spring 2024 and 19 in fall 2023), one would think the race pace would generally remain the same.

However, it doesn’t stay close even slightly.

The 2023 fall race had an average speed of 160.097 mph while last week’s race declined sharply to 155.977 mph, just over a four-mph difference. That is an alarming drop in pace and it’s all thanks to the fuel saving.

Even though different drivers are getting their time out front, the mirage of all of those recorded lead changes and three-wide racing is not the reality of how the cars actually perform.

This leads to my second point, once the caution flew for the four-Toyota pileup in turn 3, the final green flag run only had the contenders of Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski in second on the slightly stronger bottom lane. This is all thanks to how the Next Gen car truly handles on Talladega once everybody goes full-throttle to the finish. The third line with Shane van Gisbergen and Chase Elliott was promptly stalled out, thanks to an untimely move by Ty Gibbs to the outside line, leaving zero challenge from deep in the pack for the two leaders of Reddick and McDowell.

With both the loss of pace with the constant fuel saving and the near-inability to develop a third lane and make a move for the lead in the closing stages, it raises the question of the legitimacy of superspeedway racing if the cars aren’t actually racing, but just driving in formation. The cars are visually slow and clearly not at full throttle the whole race, and cars can’t pass when they all actually are at full throttle.

Additionally, it’s not just me that has these same types of grievances, it’s some of the veteran drivers of the sport.

Denny Hamlin on his podcast Actions Detrimental agreed with former teammate Kyle Busch’s criticizing tweet after the race: “He’s so right though, and that’s the tough part about it is that, when you look at the final restart, it looks like the last lap,” Hamlin said. “The two cars that controlled the outside line and the inside line were the same cars in the last 30 laps because you cannot afford to get out of line. If you get out of line, it’s over.”

Hamlin went on to explain that the drag of the car is what has hindered the full-throttle product on the Next Gen cars, and the simple answer to this problem is try something different on the car to reduce the drag.

How NASCAR fixes this drag problem will solely be up to them, but for the sake of a more enhanced racing product, I believe reducing the spoiler can be a good start into developing a better racing product for future superspeedway races, and if the speeds are too fast for NASCAR’s liking, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a restrictor plate being added to the engines to allow for exciting racing at all times.

Hamlin also explained how the fuel saving aspect of the race is just waiting around for the final fuel stretch to the checkered flag, and Hamlin provided three different solutions: make the stages two full fuel runs, add a stage to shorten to one full fuel run or eliminate the stage breaks. I agree heavily with the latter. Returning to a traditional race but still awarding stage points as NASCAR did with all the road courses (except for the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL) was refreshing and provided a natural progression versus an artificial break in the race.

NASCAR has a lot of work to do to figure out how to make superspeedway racing better for the future, and hopefully work to find a better product will begin sooner rather than later. – Wyatt Watson

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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12 Comments
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Bill B

I think all they need to do is remove the stage breaks. If you don’t know when the cautions are going to fall, saving fuel isn’t a viable option unless the final caution falls on the cusp of a fuel run.

Echo

Tv paid big money so they will never remove stage breaks, never again.

Shayne

I thought the stages were created to encourage drivers to give 100% for those all important stage points. Once again, NASCAR gets out-smarted by the crew chiefs.

Jeff H

They are just TV timeouts. That is the real reason they throw a caution flag.

Marshall

The drivers do give 100% for those stage points, they just wait for the last lap or two to make their moves. The pack sticks so close together that there’s no need for anyone to risk their track position by getting out of line until the last possible second. It could be worse though… It wasn’t that long ago that they “raced” in one long single-line train around the top at plate tracks.

Jeff H

I agree eliminate the stage break, but still award the points. You get more green flag racing and fuel stops. Those cautions are just TV time outs. There still is a problem with not being able to pass under the full throttle pack racing. that aero issue would really have to be solved.

wildcatsfan2016

Amazing! Just keep it simple. Eliminate the stage breaks and let them race.

Rick Kimpel

NASCAR should get out of the business of designing cars and let the auto industry design cars like they’ve been doing for over one hundred years.

Phil

I’d be in favor of eliminating the stage cautions. Make them RACE from green to checker.
Another idea: a two lap caution at the end of stage. The first lap gathers the field and get everyone sorted into position. Second lap to choose, then back to green.
Pit lane open, if there are any takers, lead lap or otherwise. Restart at the back of the pack.

Last edited 23 days ago by Phil
Marshall

Everyone seems to agree that eliminating stage cautions is the way to go. As usual NASCAR is listening to the fans’ thoughts and considering a compromise- 3 stage breaks instead of 2.

Bill H

Definition of the word “race” is “a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.”

To see who is the fastest, one has to run at full speed. We are not racing any more, we are conducting a competition to see which car can get to the finish line using the least fuel. That may or may not be exciting, just as watching paint dry may or may not be exciting, but it is not racing.

Let’s have a paint drying contest.

DoninAjax

I’d rather watch the grass grow in my back yard!

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