Let's stop with the hand-wringing over fuel mileage racing. Now. Because it sure as heck isn't a new invention, nor is it going anywhere anytime soon.
Where were the sighs when Regan Smith won at Darlington on tire strategy? That's become an accepted practice to win a race, so why do we agonize every time a driver stretches his fuel further than the rest of the field? Fuel, like tires, is a finite resource. Management of finite resources is one of the key components of racing.
Always has been, and always should (and will) be.
Tony Stewart's win on Monday at Chicagoland — the fourth race of 2011 directly decided by fuel supply, or lack thereof — wasn't nearly as competitive as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson's duel to the finish at Atlanta, but it was pretty darn compelling in its own right as Chasers were forced to back off the throttle over the final 51 laps to (attempt to) ensure they made it to the finish.
Because fuel mileage has seemingly been a permanent storyline in 2011, the four of 27 races decided by gas seems like a lot. However, that works out to just 15 percent.
Seven races this season have been decided on green/white/checker restarts. How can managing a tank of gas better than your opponents be any less legitimate than potentially stealing a win over two laps? (If Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won at Charlotte — the one race where fuel mileage and a green/white/checker finish overlapped — would he be as derided for winning on old tires and track position as some have treated his 2008 fuel-mileage win at Michigan?)
Cautions falling on the edge of teams' fuel windows, and subsequently not happening at all for the rest of the race, is something totally uncontrollable. Imagine the uproar if there had been an automatic caution with 30 laps to go on Monday to ensure that everyone would make it on fuel. Just the thought of that is incredibly more offensive than any race involving fuel mileage, right? (Besides, a team could have elected to stay out during that caution to gain track position and save enough gas to safely make it to the end. We can do this all day.)
Sometimes the fastest car wins, sometimes the smartest team does or sometimes the downright luckiest team wins. It just so happens that fuel-mileage racing can skew heavily to the latter two options.
And that unpredictability is what makes racing so much fun.