Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: Economy Runs to the Finish Are Becoming a Lost Art

Sunday’s (June 2) NASCAR Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway provided one of the most unusual finishes in recent memory.

First, the dominant car of Christopher Bell started blowing a motor while battling Ryan Blaney for the win. And just when it looked like Blaney had the win in hand, he sputtered coming to take the white flag, allowing Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric to score the second win of his Cup career.

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What made the finish all the more shocking is that no one, not even Blaney himself, knew he was short on fuel. There was no suspense building up to a potential fuel-mileage finish, and that made his late sputter to checkered flag all the more shocking.

When you pair that with Bell losing power — a failure that almost never happens nowadays, especially with the Next Gen car — in the closing laps in the exact same race, we got a finish that wasn’t quite one-in-a-million odds, but pretty dang close to it.

The last time we saw the leader drop out of a Cup race due to a late mechanical failure in the closing laps (which I will define as the final 10% of the race) was back in the 2022 Southern 500, which featured not one, but two leaders falling to the wayside.

Martin Truex Jr. had a commanding lead with three dozen laps remaining, but his No. 19 car suffered a mechanical failure with 32 laps to go, and he coasted to the garage just a few laps later. The lead then went to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, but he too wound up in the garage as smoke began pouring out of the exhaust pipes during a caution with 22 laps to go.

What might sound surprising is that there was an even longer wait to the last fuel-mileage finish. To find the last time the leader ran out of gas within five miles of the checkered flag, you’d have to go back three seasons, to the second race at Pocono Raceway in 2021. William Byron had control of the race in the closing laps, but he ran out with three laps to go. That handed the lead to Denny Hamlin, who ran out himself with two laps to go. That gave the lead to Busch, who saved just enough to win despite running the final 40 laps of the race stuck in fourth gear.

Sunday’s finish at Gateway wasn’t just the first mileage finish since that Pocono race in 2021; it was only the second Cup race period since 2019 where the leader ran out of gas with less than a handful of laps remaining.

Just two races in the last five-and-a-half seasons. Meanwhile, the nine-year stretch from 2010 to 2018 saw the leader run out of gas in the closing laps on 11 different occasions.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Austin Cindric Shocks Everyone at Gateway
DateTrackLengthWinnerMOVLeader(s) that Ran Out
June 2024Gateway1.250Austin Cindric3.844Ryan Blaney (2 to go)
June 2021Pocono2.500Kyle Busch8.654William Byron (3 to go), Denny Hamlin (2 to go)
October 2018Talladega2.660Aric Almirola.105Kurt Busch (Final lap)
May 2017Charlotte1.500Austin Dillon.835Jimmie Johnson (2 to go)
September 2015Loudon1.058Matt Kenseth8.941Kevin Harvick (3 to go)
August 2015Watkins Glen2.450Joey Logano5.273Kevin Harvick (Final lap)
August 2015Pocono2.500Matt Kenseth9.012Joey Logano (3 to go), Kyle Busch (Final lap)
March 2014Las Vegas1.500Brad Keselowski1.530Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Final lap)
November 2013Phoenix1.000Kevin Harvick1.796Carl Edwards (2 to go)
September 2011Loudon1.058Tony Stewart7.225Clint Bowyer (2 to go)
May 2011Charlotte1.500Kevin Harvick.703Kasey Kahne (2 to go), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Final lap)
September 2010Loudon1.058Clint Bowyer.477Tony Stewart (2 to go)

Whether it’s the stage, a lack of alternate pit strategy or getting unlucky when cautions come out, the Cup Series just hasn’t had the fuel mileage finishes that were expected to appear once or twice a season a decade ago.

And whether you love them or hate them, the economy run to the finish line is becoming a lost art.

About the author

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Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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The racing sucks. Economy runs, tires this and that is not what a good race makes. The cars can’t pass up front where it matters. Restarts are the only excitement, but that only lasts for a few laps. The lead changes occur mostly in the pits, under caution, or at the end of an economy run. Stop making excuses for the clueless at NASCAR.

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