Tag Archives: Kansas Speedway STP 400

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.

Clint Bowyer Gets a Happy Homecoming

4 Jun

Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

Today Clint Bowyer found that there truly is no place like home. With his Saturday afternoon victory in the 400th race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the Emporia native became the first Kansan to win a NASCAR national series race at Kansas Speedway, which is in its 10th season.

Bowyer had been a runner-up twice at races on his home track, once in the Sprint Cup Series and once in the Nationwide Series, but as fellow racers Johnny Sauter and Todd Bodine (who finished second and third, respectively, in today’s race) pointed out, coming in second place or third place is simply means a driver is the first or second loser. This time would be different for Bowyer.

“We’ve gotten close here, we’ve had good runs here, we’ve just never been able to seal the deal,” Bowyer said. “To finally be able to do a burnout in the homestretch in front of this crowd, this is big, man. That’s a good feeling.”

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

Though the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 technically had 10 leaders and 15 lead changes, Bowyer’s performance can hardly be described as less than domination. He led 124 of 167 laps, and much of that time it did not even appear to be a close contest for first place. Bowyer did not necessarily feel secure throughout, however, and said getting into position out of the pits during restarts was key to the team’s success today. In a race that had seven cautions, that’s likely a pretty accurate statement.

“There were some nerve-wracking times,” the No. 2 driver said. “Right there at that last pit stop we took four tires. I knew four tires was the right thing to do, but I really thought a lot more people would take four tires, and they just didn’t. It was having to get through a lot of them right in that first corner, and I thought that was key, getting in position.”

Now, Bowyer is in position to be able to sweep the weekend at Kansas Speedway, as he competes in the Sprint Cup Series race tomorrow. He would be the first to do so. Having qualified 27th for Sunday’s STP 400, he will begin the race in the 14th row of drivers.

As previously mentioned, Johnny Sauter and Todd Bodine came in second and third, respectively. James Buescher finished fourth, and Rookie of the Year candidate Joey Coulter crossed the line fifth.