Monday, June 6, 2011

Keselowski's win could change NASCAR fuel-mileage strategy

Brad Keselowski came in along with Tony Stewart to pit on lap 210 of the 267-lap STP 400 Sunday at Kansas Speedway. That would be the last time Keselowski visited pit road, but that wasn’t the case for Stewart or anybody else in the field.

To make it the final 57 laps when the best mileage by anyone else was 52 laps, Keselowski pulled out a trick. For much of the final run, he pressed the clutch pedal at the end of the straightaways and coasted into the corner before releasing the pedal when he wanted to pick up the throttle.

Drivers have forever looked for ways to save fuel and stretch the mileage as far as possible.

Often, they will cut off the engine while running under caution, as several did at Charlotte the previous week, and even times where they’ve shut off the engine under green at places such as Infineon Raceway where they can coast down the hill on the second half of the track, but Keselowski’s move isn’t a typical strategy.

It worked, though. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin pitted on lap 215 and still had to soft pedal their way to the finish line. Had they been comfortable enough with their mileage, both drivers could’ve caught Keselowski because they would have been able to run without having to worry about saving fuel.

Instead, Keselowski’s method allowed him to keep a pretty close pace to the other two, who had pitted five laps later.

The other factor in Keselowski’s favor was what happened at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 where several cars ran out of fuel in the closing laps. Maybe Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin and even Stewart could have been more aggressive with their fuel strategy but were cautious because of what happened the week before.

In any case, Keselowski’s method of using the clutch to stall the motor as the car drifted into the turns could become the new preferred way to for drivers to save fuel in the future. Keselowski not only made it to the finish line, but he also had plenty of fuel for a victory salute to the fans and a burnout. That car may have been able to go more than 60 laps before it ran out.

Teams might have to reconfigure their fuel windows in the future if this method catches on and drivers are able to take the next step in saving fuel.


  1. One of the Foxheads said that Stewart went 56 laps on fuel earlier in the race. Of course, you have to consider the source. lol

    Great strategy by BK, or whoever came up with the idea. It probably depends on the type track, and how big a lead the leader has. I was glad to see the #2 rewarded for the strategy and not cheated by a bogus caution.

  2. Post-race Brad didn't want to confirm what Fox was showing from his onboard camera... Kinda like it was top secret!

    I just figured it was in everybody's repertoire. Sure seems simple enough to ride the clutch and allow the engine to go to an idle when entering the turns, heck they've gotta slow down anyway... No one already thought of that? Wonder why?

    I knew a man with an eighth grade education who ended his career as a world renowned engineer working on huge construction projects all over the globe. I asked him once how he was able to pull it off and he told me he simply steps back, looks at the big picture and uses common sense. He said the highly educated engineers spend all their time focusing on the little details without bearing the big picture in mind... I'd say this falls into that category. All these well paid engineers and something as simple as applying the clutch never came up... Interesting...

    Thanks jmayer!

  3. I think part of the reason it worked was he was so far ahead at the end...I am pretty sure the drivers know about riding the clutch - its just they are usually trying to save fuel under yellows where cutting the engine works better and/or using the draft. I think it was the unique situation of being alone way up front that allowed him to use that strategy. Although Paul W is a budding genius so who knows!

  4. Kristen,

    Brad nursed that car for all it was worth after his last pit stop, even before he was at the front. It was everyone else pitting that gave him the big lead and then TV started focusing on him. The highest lap count per tank up until he made 57 (and evidently with plenty of fuel to spare) was 52. TV never showed Brad early on that run and I'm willing to bet he was on the clutch while languishing in traffic. Not sure how to find out though since they seem to be secretive about it...

    BTW, both Penske cars had great weekends!

  5. Gene - The type of track and situation certainly plays a large part into any fuel-mileage strategy. I thought both Stewart and Keselowski should've waited one more lap to pit. It's interesting Stewart didn't push it farther than he did.

    Dwindy1 - I also thought it was interesting BK said there are some "tricks" to it. Guess those tricks aren't so secret anymore.

    klvalus - True, but I would have thought we would have seen this method used more often. It would be fun to see the #2 team become a factor on a regular basis after its early struggles.

  6. Post race Tony said the crew didn't get all the gas in the car on the next-to-last stop, so he had to stop again at the end.