Once a rarity, fuel mileage races are becoming more prevalent in NASCAR these days.
That was evident Monday at Chicagoland Speedway, where the opening race of 2011 Chase came down to a test of conservation, not speed.
Looking ahead to the remaining nine races, it seems fuel mileage races could play a huge role in determining the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Just look at this weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, for example. Clint Bowyer was able to open last year's Chase at the 'Magic Mile' with a win by saving enough fuel and overtaking Tony Stewart – who was coasting around out of fuel. If cautions fall at the right time this Sunday, who says fuel mileage will not be a factor once again?
In the past, races at Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Phoenix and Homestead have come down to fuel mileage duels, and could possibly do the same over the course of the next nine weeks.
Throughout previous Chases, most looked to the plate-race at Talladega Superspeedway as the 'wild card' event in the championship stretch. However, with fuel mileage becoming an increasingly more prevalent factor in the outcome of races in 2011, it appears nearly any race could really be a 'wild card' if gambles are made and – like on Monday – some of the Chase drivers come up short.
Is this the best way to determine a champion of the sport?
Chase contender Matt Kenseth was a factor for the win in Monday's race, but ran out of the final lap and was eventually penalized for being pushed by another car. Kenseth expressed his frustration with fuel mileage races, saying it is hard to "put on a show for the fans" driving around half throttle and conserving gas.
But shouldn't the championship driver and team excel in all areas of the sport? That is the case made when arguing for a road course in the Chase, so couldn't the same be said for having the proper strategy, doing what it takes inside the car and saving enough fuel to ensure a solid finish, if not a win?
With so many tracks susceptible to fuel mileage races left on the schedule in the Chase, do not be surprised when saving fuel and running half throttle play a bigger role in determining the champion than driving flat-out and through the floorboard.