Much of the talk around the entrance of the 2012 season was NASCAR's switch to electronic fuel injection from the standard carbureted engines that have been a staple of the series since its inception. And for the most part, drivers and teams said that not much would be affected when it came to to performance and on-track activity.
On Sunday, we might have seen the first glimpse at how electronic fuel injection could impact a race, and it came at the expense of Tony Stewart.
Stewart, perhaps the best driver in the series at saving fuel, flipped off his engine when a caution came out with 66 laps to go in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix. It was a standard fuel-saving practice: shut the car off, let it coast for a bit, and then refire it and sped up. Rinse, repeat as often as necessary, and voila, gas is saved. Stewart said he practiced the standard method on Monday at Daytona with no issue
However when Stewart went to refire the car on Sunday, it didn't start. Cars passed him under caution. It still wouldn't start. It coasted towards pit road. It still didn't start. Finally, after being pushed into his pit box by a wrecker and after going two laps down, the car started. Stewart didn't have time to make up those laps. He finished 22nd.
"I just shut the car off like we we did at Daytona to save fuel and turn it back on and it never refired, that's all I can tell you," Stewart said after the race. Finishes of 16th and 22nd to start the season have him in 15th in the points standings.
Crew chief Steve Addington said that the team had a circuit breaker turn off, which prevented the car from firing. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Mark Martin, tweeted that a breaker popped on the No. 55 car, and it impacted the team's fuel mileage significantly.
Yes, that's right, a circuit breaker. Have we ever talked about a circuit breaker as a culprit for ruining a good finish before? While we don't know how much EFI had to do with the issues that Stewart and Martin had right now, the rest of the garage will probably be looking closely to see what answers each team finds. And in Stewart's case, if fuel conservation methods will have to be adapted.