Unleaded fuel makes Cup debut

Unleaded fuel makes Cup debut

Unleaded fuel makes Cup debut

FONTANA, Calif. (AP) -Unleaded gasoline made its NASCAR Nextel Cup debut Sunday to mixed reviews.

There were several blown engines during the race, including those belonging to Dale Earnhardt Inc., Chevrolets driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr., as well as the motor in the Evernham Motorsports Dodge of Kasey Kahne.

Asked if he thought the unleaded fuel had anything to do with his engine letting go, Kahne said, ``I don't know. It's definitely different the way it runs, the way it takes off on restarts and how it shifts.

``We've got some things to work on and figure out, but I think the unleaded fuel is fine. We've just got to learn how to make it work.''

Earnhardt also said he didn't know if unleaded fuel had anything to do with his team's troubles.

``I know the guys will figure it out,'' he said. ``This unleaded fuel has sprung a little bit of a surprise on us - a little bit of a curveball. But I have all the faith that DEI will get it figured out.''

Teammate Truex said he had no warning before his engine went up in smoke.

``We had a restart there and I was running behind (Stewart) and the car was really good,'' Truex said. ``Then, just out of the blue, the motor let go.''

NASCAR has been using the unleaded fuel in its Busch and Craftsman Truck Series since last season, but the engines used in Cup make more power and have to last longer because the races are longer.

``The biggest challenge is the reliability and durability of the valves and valve seats,'' explained Jim Covey, engine technical director for General Motors Racing. ``Leaded fuel has lubricity; unleaded fuel does not. Therefore, with the unleaded fuel, they have experienced wear issues with the valves or valve seats.''

Covey said the Cup engines turns as much as 9,500 rpm, which means the valves are opening and closing more than 75 times per second.

``Leaded fuel provides a cushion, whereas unleaded fuel does not,'' he said. ``The other thing that effects the wear is that the valve motion controlled by the camshaft is different from engine to engine and from team to team. Therefore, it might react differently from one team to another.''

The engine in Dave Blaney's Toyota also seized up, but his team said it happened after a belt came off the oil pump.

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PLAYFUL: Some of the big names were feeling a bit playful during Sunday's race.

On lap 90 of the 250-lap event, Tony Stewart drove past Jeff Burton to regain the lead he had lost a few laps earlier. As he began to pull away from Burton a bit, Stewart radioed his crew: ``And the crowd goes wild.''

Stewart, who crashed out of the Daytona 500 while leading, finished eighth on Sunday.

Crown favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent a long time in the garage after it appeared his engine had failed. But, after his No. 8 DEI crew did some repairs, Junior hit the track again.

On a restart several laps later, the engine in his Chevy really did blow, sending Earnhardt into a sweeping spin that took him near the outside wall and then down into the infield grass. He climbed out of the still-smoking car and did a very theatrical bow to the crowd, which gave Earnhardt a huge cheer.

``We tried to go out and get a few laps because Kasey Kahne blew up but fixed it and went back out,'' Earnhardt said. ``So we were trying to get a few points, but we did blow again.''

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TOYOTA TOP 10: Brian Vickers not only gave Team Red Bull its first Cup start this weekend, the former Hendrick Motorsports driver gave the new team its first top 10.

It was also the first top 10 finish for Toyota in its first season in Cup.

``I think everybody learned a lot today,'' Vickers said after his 10th-place finish. ``We messed up a little on the last pit stop, but my guys did a tremendous job. I'm real proud of them. We didn't have any problems with the car.

``We learned a lot about the set up and what we can do moving forward. I think, all in all, it was a great run.''

Vickers, one of four Toyota entries in the race, said the top 10 finish means a lot to the team and to the manufacturer.

``Everybody knows we have work to do,'' Vickers said. ``We didn't win the race today, but we did have a good solid run. I think this finish says a lot about the whole group, not just Team Red Bull, not just about the No. 83 Camry, about Toyota.

``To be a new team in such a competitive series and come in our first race and get a top 10 - I'm so proud of everyone. I think everyone is stoked.''

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ROOKIE RACE: David Ragan was the top-finishing rookie for the second straight race, adding Sunday's 16th-place finish to his fifth-place run in Daytona.

``You know, I've only got a few green flag pit stops under my belt and, certainly, to have two today, that's more than I've had most of my whole life,'' said Ragan, who replaced Mark Martin in Roush's No. 6 Ford this season. ``That was fun and interesting, and we learned something every time.

``When we get it all figured out, we're going to be good.''

Highly touted Juan Pablo Montoya, jumping from Formula One to NASCAR, had another tough day, finishing 26th. He was 19th in Daytona.



AP NEWS

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