Blown engines in All-Star Race are lingering lessons one week
CONCORD, N.C. -- Doug Yates opens a laptop inside the
No. 16 hauler and points to a red line on the screen that
climbs and crests over and over, in a profile resembling big
waves crashing down on a beach.
The graph represents the revolutions per minute inside
one of Yates' engines, which power Sprint Cup title
contenders at Roush Fenway Racing. The RPM build to a peak of
about 9,500 entering Turn 1 at Charlotte Motor Speedway,
before dropping off and beginning their relentless ascent
The red line is a visual representation of the
punishment engines will endure during Sunday's Coca-Cola
600, the longest event of the NASCAR season, and a race that
can take a severe toll on the power plants inside the Cup
The temperatures on race day promise to be hot. The RPM
will be sustained at a very high level. And then there are
all those miles -- 100 more than engine builders typically
"You sustain pretty high RPM for a long time. So,
that, along with the length of the race, really puts the
engine builders on edge," said Yates, chairman of Roush
Yates Engines, which supplies Ford teams on NASCAR's top
series. "We do everything we can to prepare for a longer
race, and we ask the teams to take care of the temperatures
and the mileage. And then when it's over ... we look for
the end of this one, let's put it this way."
With good reason.
Last season, three drivers dropped out of the event early
with engine trouble -- most notably five-time series champion
Johnson. The potential is always there, which is
why this weekend Yates is asking the teams he works with to
limit the amount of miles they put on their engines in
practice. The Roush driver who turned the most laps in
opening practice Thursday was Matt
Kenseth, who made only 15 during the course
of the 90-minute session.
The intention is to save the engines for race day. "When
you go 600 miles, you look at the percentage between 500 and
600, and that's quite a bit longer of a race," said
Roush driver Greg
Biffle, who leads the Cup standings by two
points over teammate Kenseth. "And definitely these
parts -- the longevity of the part -- [have] to continue to
operate at its maximum temperature and its maximum power for
that much longer."
All of which can leave engine builders like Yates, son of
former championship car owner Robert Yates, wringing his
hands for the better part of five hours on Sunday. On their
in-house dynamometer, Roush Yates engines endure test runs
longer than anything they'll experience at the race
track. Yates consults with crew chiefs to try to keep
practice miles to a minimum. But still, things can go wrong.
That was the case in spectacular fashion during last
weekend's Sprint All-Star Race, where the brightest
fireworks weren't in the sky after the event, but around
the Roush cars after the engines of Biffle and Carl
Edwards' engine expired after only 25 laps,
sparking a brief fire. Biffle's went out after 67 laps,
throwing off a massive plume of smoke, and forcing the driver
to scramble out of a cockpit that was quickly engulfed in
fumes. But neither of those engines were protected by the
lap-limit safeguards in place this week. In fact, they were
pushed to the limit for a reason -- in the hopes of finding a
package that the Roush cars could use later this season in
the Chase for the championship.
The Roush Yates team tried the same thing last year, and it
worked -- Edwards not only won the non-points event, but also
went on to nearly claim the Sprint Cup, losing in a
tiebreaker to Tony
Stewartafter the final race of the season.
This time, though, the engines were pushed too hard.
"You never want to break an engine," Yates
said. "A year ago at the All-Star Race, we really had an
aggressive package, and we went on to win the race. And,
later in the year, we started racing that package based on
the results. This year, we came out with a new package again
in the All-Star Race, but we found the limits. We were just
pushing it too hard.
"The good news is, you can take that data and make
smarter decisions down the road about your package. And, it
didn't cost us any points. A little bit of pride, but no
Yates said Biffle and Edwards both suffered the same
failure last weekend, which made the problem less difficult
to diagnose. Biffle said the issue was in the "bottom
end" -- which typically refers to parts below the
cylinder head, such as a pistons and rods -- and that the oil
pressure in his No. 16 car was low. Although the exhibition
race paid $1 million to win, the points leader understood the
"I kind of applaud the engine shop for the effort
they put in, and to take advantage of a non-points race to
implement what you would obviously call experimental parts or
something to that effect," Biffle said. "They had
the guts to bring a piece to the race track that was on the
edge and made a lot of power, and they found out that it
didn't have the durability.
"So, I think that's what the All-Star is about
-- going 100 percent. Whether it's the driver or the
engine builder or the guys putting the cars together --
it's all about winning. That's what they went for,
and that has no impact on our regular engines for the season.
That was experimental stuff, things they were trying, and
obviously it's back to the drawing board. They don't
get a lot of opportunity to do that."
Edwards -- who is 10th in points -- said Yates
approached him before Thursday's opening practice
session, explaining the problem from the previous week and
trying to put the driver's mind at ease.
"I understand. If you're not trying those
things, you don't get better," Edwards said.
"They made tons of power, they just didn't last very
long. I'm not sure, but that's the first engine
failure we've had with our team in a long time, maybe
since Pocono last year or something.
"I'm happy with the engines. I think Doug does
a great job, and I don't think he's covering his
tracks like he made a mistake. They told us before that race
that, 'hey, we're doing something different. It might
work and if it does, it'll be great. But if it
doesn't, sorry.' And it obviously didn't. I think
they wanted to try whatever they were doing for a long time,
and they just have few opportunities to do it in a race
situation where you could live with an engine failure. We
don't have that many opportunities anymore to do
Yates believes his team can still benefit from the
"We'll back up, and take the good things out
of it, and apply those," he said, "and learn from
the things that didn't work very well."
Sunday, there will be no experimentation -- just
hanging on over the course of 600 miles. For an engine
builder, it's among the more nervous days of the season.
There's a reason the Coca-Cola 600 bills itself as the
ultimate test of man and machine. Both have to make it to the
"I think this race is a good race to be 600
miles," Biffle said. "We have to have that one race
a year that is technically a durability and stamina test, and
that's what this race is."