Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fuel Mileage at Phoenix Means Drama at Homestead

Jimmie Johnson (above) hacked into Denny Hamlin's
points lead in a fuel-mileage showdown at
Phoenix International Raceway
Folks who don't like fuel mileage races might want to reconsider their disdain.

Thanks to today's gas-saving drama at Phoenix International Raceway, the season finale at Homestead is going to be one heckuva show.

With one race to go, reigning champ Jimmie Johnson trails Denny Hamlin by a mere 15 points.  And third place driver Kevin Harvick? He's still in striking distance at only 46 points back.

It's the closest margin in Chase history.  And it's bound to make Sunday's championship race the most exciting in recent memory.

Hamlin dominated Phoenix, leading the most laps (190 of 312) by far.  But his 12th place result is proof that "points as they run" graphics are about as worthless as the plastic wrap on your peanuts. 

The outcome boiled down to the have and have nots: namely, two teams that actually had a Sunoco-saving strategy - and one team that didn't have seem to have a gas mileage plan at all.

After the race, Hamlin admitted that fuel savings didn't even enter into his team's calculations - at least as far as he was aware. "I was never alerted to save fuel, so I assumed that everyone was going to have to pit. I didn't think it was a question," Hamlin said. "Like I said, I did my job."

This failure to plan is somewhat ironic. Just one week ago, No. 11 crew chief Mike Ford called out Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team for coming up with a new game-changing strategy - the infamous "Pit Crew Swap". Ford said Knaus' move just proved that the No. 11 is the better team.

"They removed their team,” Ford said following Hamlin's win at Texas. “Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out. So this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team."

Ford's comments were likely nothing more than a volley of psychological warfare. But he clearly missed his mark.

Said Johnson today after climbing out of his car, ""I hope the pressure of us being on their heels works on him mentally this week. Those guys better be on their toes."


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