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Drivers Frustrated by Level of Fuel Conservation in Daytona 500

Daytona 500 fuel conseravtion NASCAR drivers frustrated

Photo Credit: Craig White, TobyChristie.com

Superspeedway racing is an interesting beast. When you’re watching it from the outside, unless drivers are running in a single-file parade, it always looks like a fierce neck-and-neck battle is ongoing on the racetrack. However, following Monday’s Daytona 500, many drivers stated it was the complete opposite for the majority of the 200-lap contest at Daytona International Speedway.

While it appeared they were two-by-two and sometimes three-by-three laying it all on the line, drivers and teams were forced into running in ultimate fuel-conservation mode throughout the majority of the event and were simply riding around until the end of each Stage.

While the product didn’t appear much different on the television broadcast, drivers didn’t shy away from airing their frustration about just riding around for a large portion of the sport’s biggest race.

“It’s frustrating, I don’t know how to fix it,” Erik Jones lamented after a run that saw him finish in the eighth position. “It’s really hurt the racing for sure at these tracks. It’s a 480-mile fuel-saving race and a 20-mile sprint of chaos to the finish. I wish we could race more during the day.”

While TobyChristie.com was unable to catch up with fifth-place finisher Bubba Wallace to get his thoughts following the race, he quote posted, “facts,” on X in response to the above quote from Jones.

And Wallace and Jones aren’t alone in being frustrated by the current form of fuel-strategy-based racing at Daytona. Chris Buescher, who wound up finishing 18th after being involved in a late crash, may have been the most frustrated driver on pit road.

“Everyone was saving fuel. Get in the pack, and you run five seconds slower than we should have been running in the first Stage. It was a massive pack. Five seconds,” Buescher emphasized.

While it was shocking to see AJ Allmendinger turning laps faster than the thundering pack on his own in that first Stage, Buescher says the fuel-saving at the superspeedways didn’t just come out of nowhere. The driver of the No. 17 RFK Racing Ford Mustang says it has been building for a while, it just reached a head on Monday night.

“It’s been heading this way. We’ve thought about it for a long time. We’re all taking notes and we’re seeing it more and more. The shortest pit stop is cycling you out to the lead, and that’s what’s winning races,” Buescher explained. “It’s been heading in that direction.”

The main source of Buescher’s frustration is that if you’re a driver, who doesn’t want to simply ride around as was the case for him, there is no path for you to break out and make your move as all of the lanes are clogged by cars in fuel conservation mode.

“It’s brutal. You end up eighth in a row on the inside. Both lanes are saving. You can’t even get out of the lane if you want to,” Buescher stated with frustration. “You’re just trapped. No matter if you wanted to go or not, you can’t.”

Noah Gragson, who scored a solid ninth-place finish in his debut points-paying event with Stewart-Haas Racing, says he is ready to get to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend, where he feels there will be a lot more racing, and a lot less riding around.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a lot more racing next weekend, I think than here,” Gragson said. “Here, you’re just saving fuel and waiting for Stages. I don’t have a solution, but we’re side-by-side for the first half of the Stages until we pit under green. Everyone is just saving and riding.”

Gragson says while the style of saving fuel all race long is not fun behind the wheel, it does lead to more cars being around for the final run of a race for the win.

“It is [frustrating], but it takes a lot of the risk factor out at the beginning,” Gragson said. “You end up where you end up, and just ride right by. I think that’s why you see a lot more cars start a run in the middle of the final Stage because everyone is running half-throttle. I’m not complaining. Just stating facts.”

How to fix this going forward

While just about everyone seemed frustrated by fuel conservation, nobody had a real idea of a solution to the problem. Or at least if they did, they didn’t feel they were able to voice it. For as long as there are pre-planned breaks baked into the distance of a race, crew chiefs and engineers are going to always find ways to game the system to give themselves a competitive advantage.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. It’s their job.

That being said, an obvious solution would seemingly be to eliminate Stage breaks at superspeedway races altogether. NASCAR loves the Stage format, and will not remove Stage Points anytime soon. But what they could do at superspeedways is remove the Stage Break cautions like they tested out at Road Courses last season.

This would remove the known breaks in the 200-lap distance, which would greatly reduce the chances of riding around and saving fuel all race. When you have no idea when and where the cautions will fall in the race distance, your strategy becomes reactive.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of Stage breaks at Daytona and Talladega. If not, the fuel mileage edition of the Daytona 500 could exist for years and years to come.

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