NASCAR Fuel Duel: An Appreciation

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The fuel duel.

Some NASCAR fans love them. Others can’t stand them. I was on the annoyed side of the fuel duel for many years, as I wanted to see a week’s worth of work impact a race more than a random caution from a driver in 26th place spinning out with five laps to go. That opinion all changed on a random Wednesday during the holiday break.

The Race:

It was a trip to in-laws for their annual Christmas event. We were supposed to arrive by 11. It was a  2 1/2 hour drive.

For anyone without kids, this seems like a simple task. Get on the road early, find some coffee along the way and enjoy the scenery. For those with children, this was a tight timeline. With kids under 6, it’s a tightrope when you consider the following.

  • Waking kids up.
  • Eating breakfast.
  • Getting everyone to go to the bathroom.
  • Avoiding random rage because a toy car has gone missing.

The race began at 8:15 with three kids, a giant coffee, some light drizzle and a bit of wiggle room. Then I looked at the fuel gauge.

The Fuel Duel:

The fuel gauge said we had 194 miles until empty. The drive was 175 miles. Anyone who drives knows the fuel gauge can be optimistic and easily plummet the closer you get to empty. Did I have time to stop and get gas? Of course. Did I have time to get gas, corral three kids running out of the van having to go to the bathroom and eat candy and get a fountain pop because I’m still crazy tired? Not at all.

Stopping wasn’t an option. The fuel duel was on.

The Battle:

My personal fuel duel changed how I think of racing. It’s easy to drive faster and frustrating to be slow on purpose. Mind you, I’m not paid to drive fast; so, I can’t imagine what Brad Keselowski feels like when being told to slow down.

As we passed Michigan International Raceway, how fitting, the timing was ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, driving faster cost me mileage and whatever wiggle room I had was lapped traffic. I had to slow down.

Slowing down with bickering children is beyond challenging. It’s counterintuitive. I can only fathom Kevin Harvick in the lead knowing that cars and traffic are catching up to him, and there’s nothing he can do about it because speeding up means running out of gas and losing the race. The mental toughness to balance that line is something NASCAR fans may not fully appreciate.

The End Result: 

Strategy can only do so much. My technology failed. More than 40 minutes away from my destination, the gas light blinked. Setting off a Pavlovian response, bathroom breaks were required. My wife even wanted Doritos. The Speedway gas station was beautiful; our timing was ugly. We pulled in for Christmas at 11:12. If there were only a points system for Christmas parties.

The 2016 Sprint Cup season will feature fuel duels whether you want them to or not. Instead of getting all frustrated, consider the different type of racing that actually occurs. It may not be full throttle 200 MPH stuff you see at some tracks; road races aren’t that way either and fans seem to enjoy it. We’ve all experienced our own kind of fuel duel. Let’s learn to enjoy how the best drivers in the world handle that situation in 2016.