Tag Archives: Jeff Gordon

Fuel conservation becomes recurring strategy for NASCAR teams

5 Jun

Jamie Squire/Getty Images for NASCAR

A NASCAR team takes many variables into account when choosing when its driver will come in for pit stops. But while a team can plan for different situations to the best of its ability, when you throw in 42 other cars and the cautions that go along with the interactions between those, everything gets much more interesting.

Gas – or rather a lack thereof – played a pivotal role in last week’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. led on the last lap but then ended up seventh because he ran out of fuel in the final stretch. Fuel also proved relevant on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. This time it worked more toward Earnhardt Jr.’s favor, as he finished second behind Brad Keselowski, who got his first win in 61 races.

Earnhardt Jr. qualified 28th for the STP 400, so even running 13th – his position on lap 134 – had required making up some serious ground, and Kansas is a track on which it is hard to get around other cars anyway. Midway through the race, Earnhardt Jr. spun out between turns three and four, which created a caution for laps 154-157.

“Starting where we did, it just wasn’t easy,” the popular No. 88 driver said. “And we finally got to right outside that top 10 and was looking good for the last 100 laps. And I went to searching for more speed and busted my butt up there on 3 and 4. And tossed us in all the spots we worked for all day.”

However, there was a silver lining to that incident; it put into use the savvy of Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte.

“[It] gave Steve the chance to play the strategy game … when that caution came out that we came and got fuel. We put ourselves in a one-stop scenario where everybody else didn’t pit. They can’t give up the track position because it’s so hard to pass,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “So they stayed out there knowing they’d have to come down to pit road twice. And that was the game that we took, and the race  … could have had a caution and changed everybody’s strategy, but it worked out for us and right to the end.”

After the race, Earnhardt Jr. seemed less than enthusiastic about the finish. Although second place in the STP 400 puts him third in the overall Sprint Cup Series points standings, it was clear he viewed the runner-up spot as a bit of a letdown. He explained his frustration of having to slow down in order to have enough fuel to finish the race … even though he felt his car was fast enough to overtake Keselowski’s. Earnhardt Jr. recalled his conversation with Letarte.

“Man, he was telling me that whole run: ‘We’re good. Let Mike be short, we’re good, we’re fine.’ Then we got within 10 to go, and he said, ‘Back it down, back it down.'”

“I can catch the 2, he’s real slow,” Earnhardt Jr. indicated his response.

“And he’s like: Back it down, back it down, back it up to the 11.”

Letarte told Earnhardt Jr. the fuel would run out at the flag pole, and the driver followed his crew chief’s instructions. At the press conference, he confirmed that Letarte was right; the gauge was red and the No. 88’s tank was indeed empty coming down the back straightaway.

Fuel-influenced finishes generally aren’t preferable, but they are certainly part of the sport. As Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe pointed out, the fastest car doesn’t always win.

“Everything has to be perfect to win one of these races.So when I say the fastest car doesn’t always win, I mean you can have the fastest car, but if you don’t have good pit strategy or you don’t keep yourself out of trouble or put yourself in situations, it really doesn’t matter,” Wolfe said. “So what I’ve seen is if you can put yourself in the top 10, you give yourself a chance, at least. And we feel like that’s what we did today.”

Finishing behind Keselowski and Earnheardt Jr. were Denny Hamlin in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth and Carl Edwards in fifth. Keselowski’s teammate Kurt Busch finished ninth after leading 152 laps – over 120 more than any other driver – in the 267-lap race.

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Jeff Gordon talks Kansas, points

5 Jun

On Saturday Jeff Gordon talked to reporters outside his #24 hauler. Gordon has one win this season, at Phoenix, and he currently sits 16th in the points. Here’s a Q&A snippet of what he had to say.

Q: How has Kansas Speedway changed since you began racing here?

A: To me this track has just gotten better and better every single year. I loved it from the beginning obviously, but like all tracks do, over time as they settle in, you get some different characteristics that come into play, some different bumps, you see the pavement start to wear a little bit. But here in Kansas I think those things really only made the track better because the wear, the way it wears the tires, the grip level, just makes for multiple groups. We already saw yesterday in practice, cars up against the wall, cars on the bottom, cars in the middle. That’s going to make for a great race here.

Q: Having raced here before, how much use do you get out of the notes that your team brings in?

A: Things change so quickly in this sport, especially over the off-season when you get the teams that … in the Chase, gave everything that they had to have fast racecars and then they go in the offseason with that knowledge, and some go in the offseason knowing that what they had wasn’t working and they just go to work.

So it’s amazing how much can change over the offseason. Not to mention Goodyear constantly trying to improve the tires for this racecar, for these racetracks. For some of those teams, definitely make you have to stay on top of things in a big way. So those [notes] from last year, they definitely help us a little bit here, but a lot of things have changed so we can’t go off of that too much, but this race, until the second race, it’ll be interesting to see how accurate [those notes are]. I think they’ll be fairly accurate.

Q: With your position in the points, although you have a win, are you kind of in a nervous area right now?

A: I’m certainly not comfortable with it. It’s not a good place to be. To me, I guess I look at it a little bit different. It’s not just about being in the top 10 in points; it’s about being a threat for the championship. And yeah, you have to be in the top 10 or 12, but in order to do that, and you can improve your program by the time the Chase comes around, and be in there for the championship, so that’s why we can’t give up. We’ve got to work hard to improve all the time.

But I think from a points standpoint right now, what we have to focus on is winning races because if we can win another one or two races, to me that locks us in … Not only locks us in, but gives us momentum to actually be a threat for the championship. And we’ve gotten ourselves behind, and that’s obvious. It shows, where we’re at in the points. We’ve been inconsistent and we haven’t performed the way we need to.

So to me it’s not just about being in the top 12, it’s about being in the top 12 and being a real threat for the championship. And so we definitely have work to do. But I’m excited. This weekend, things have gone really well.