Mechanical woes run rampant in chilly Kansas
After starting on the pole, A.J. Allmendinger ran out of gas and had engine problems. (Autostock)
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM
April 23, 2012 12:21 PM, EDT
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A.J. Allmendinger first realized something was wrong when he heard the engine of his No. 22 car spitting and chattering.
"Not sure how to explain it," the Penske Racing driver said, "other than you're on the pole one minute riding around leading laps, and then next thing you know, your car isn't right."
They gave us more gear here this time, and I think that took a toll on not only us, but on a lot of guys out there.
-- JEFF GORDON
That was certainly the case Sunday for Allmendinger, the pole winner at Kansas Speedway who led 44 laps early. Then he ran out of gas, and later he suffered a problem with the linkage in his vehicle's engine that took many laps to diagnose and repair. After all that, Allmendinger found himself 10 laps down and still searching for his first victory in NASCAR's premier series.
"I know I'm not the only one here that's frustrated," said Allmendinger, who finished 32nd. "We all are. We were off to such a great start. We had pole, the No. 22 [Dodge] was so good that first run. Our car was fast out front, and then the gremlins hit us."
If it's any consolation, he wasn't alone. Sunday proved a tough afternoon on equipment, as a number of teams and manufacturers suffered engine issues or watched their vehicles run out of fuel. Some were pit-road mistakes. Some were mechanical failures. Others were a victim of the unexpectedly cold weather, with engines set up for what was supposed to be a 70-degree day and then forced to run in the 50s. All of it happened on a fast track and on a day with just three cautions, which kept RPMs near their peak.
Some cars couldn't handle it. The Michael Waltrip Racing duo of Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin suffered breakdowns in their valve trains. Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch had their days ended early by engine trouble. Jeff Gordon was left running around the 1.5-mile track down a cylinder, receiving warnings from NASCAR about keeping up minimum speed.
"We obviously had a valve spring I believe, something in the valve train that broke," Gordon said. "They gave us more gear here this time, and I think that took a toll on not only us, but on a lot of guys out there. I felt like it was turning a lot of RPM, even though we have a rev limiter to keep it from going over what we think it needs to, and it never did. But still, it caused a problem."
Blame the conditions. Sunday was overcast, windy and at times bracingly cold, a stark departure from the warmer temperatures that had been forecast. Combined with a fast race, it's a recipe for engine trouble. The average speed of winner Denny Hamlin was 144.122 mph, breaking the track record of 138.077 mph set by Greg Biffle in 2010.
"The whole thing is, everybody's pushing everything as hard as they can, and this race track, it's a very fast race track and the RPMs stayed up pretty good," said Danny Lawrence, trackside manager for Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines. "... There were different issues out there, but most of what you saw was valve-train related. Everybody's right there on the edge just trying to make as much power as we can, and with the cooler weather, and the lap times not falling off as much; it caught a lot of people right there on the edge."
The cooler-than-expected conditions "likely played a factor," added Scott Maxim, director of track support for Hendrick Motorsports' engine program. "The average lap time was fast, so that's a contributing factor. It would be too early right now to speculate on the reason and the cause, but they're possibilities."
To a degree, the weather affected fuel mileage, too. Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne ran dry before pit stops, although not getting all the fuel in the car could have played a part, and each rebounded to finish in the top 10. Still, fuel mileage was lower than it traditionally has been at Kansas, Maxim said, because previous races have been run in much warmer conditions. This year's spring race was moved up in the schedule by more than a month to accommodate a resurfacing project that began after the event and is expected to be completed by the facility's Chase race in October.
Lawrence compared it to running a night race after practicing in sunlight. "When we go to Charlotte, like with the All-Star Race, we practice during the day," he said. "And when we run at nighttime, the fuel mileage will definitely go down. It just caught some people off guard."
The weather was a curveball to which everyone had to adapt. Darian Grubb, Hamlin's crew chief, said he toned down his planned adjustments on the No. 11 car because of the weather. Even so, not everything could be explained -- like how Joey Logano lost his engine just rolling out to practice on Friday, when the weather was similar to what it was on race day. Logano had to start at the rear of the field Sunday as a result. Needless to say, this week engine-builders will be busy tearing their power plants apart.
"I don't think I've seen that many engine failures in a Cup race in a long time," said Ty Norris, executive vice president and general manager at MWR. "... It's definitely a little bit of a scratch-your-head moment right now."