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Stewart not alone trying to figure out EFI mystery

March 05, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

It was a long push to pit road as Tony Stewart went from 13th to laps down after his No. 14 wouldn't restart. (Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Tony Stewart knew what question was coming as soon as he climbed from his No. 14 Chevrolet after Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

He still didn't have an answer.

Lonely feeling


Under caution, Tony Stewart cuts the engine to save fuel and has trouble starting the engine back up dropping him multiple laps down.

Asked what had happened to take him out of contention in the race, when he shut off his car in an effort to save fuel and it failed to re-fire, Stewart replied: "I don't build these things. You are asking the wrong guy."

OK, well, then how about Greg Zipadelli, who is competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing. Did you know what happened, Zippy?

"No," was Zipadelli's terse one-word reply.

Well, how about Steve Addington, Stewart's new crew chief? After consulting with Zipadelli, team engineers and Jeff Andrews, who oversees the building of the Hendrick Motorsports engines that SHR buys and uses in Stewart's cars, Addington at least had somewhat of an idea of what transpired on Lap 249 of the 312-lap race.

That's when Stewart's car inexplicably stalled and he had to get a push from a wrecker to get to pit road. He was running 13th at the time but ended up going a lap down. He eventually ended up two laps down in 22nd on a day when he and Addington thought the No. 14 team was destined for something much better.

"A breaker switch in the system that's there -- I don't understand totally why it's there -- but it kicked off," Addington said. "It doesn't need it when it's running. But when he shut the car off, if you ever shut it off, it won't let the car fire back up.

"We had no way of knowing that's what had kicked off, or that it would do that under racing conditions. It's not what we wanted. We had a fast car and thought we would get a top-five [finish] out of it, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

Addington said the incident was related to the new fuel-injection system NASCAR instituted this season, saying the breaker that kicked off was part of the EFI package. He said he was searching for answers just like everyone else, and indicated that more research into the issue would be required before the team races again next weekend at Las Vegas.

"I'm sitting here talking to the engine guys, and they're questioning what's going on, too," Addington said. "It's going to be something where we're all going to have to put our heads together before Vegas.

"You've got circuits in there and they all run off sensors and things like that. If it pops that breaker, you're done. It won't fire back up. That's what we've got to look into. They're looking at it and scratching their heads and they don't know why it happened. It's just unfortunate that it happened to us."

Pressed further on the matter, Addington finally shrugged his shoulders in frustration.

"I would like to tell you the specifics, but when you've got the guys from Hendrick Motorsports here and their head EFI guy here, looking at it, what else can I say? He wants to look into it and he's got questions. So I can't answer your questions until I get some answers myself," Addington said.

"I don't build these things. You are asking the wrong guy."

--TONY STEWART

Stewart wasn't only driver whose car had suspected EFI-related issues at Phoenix. Carl Edwards also suffered a nearly similar fate in his No. 99 Ford before finishing 17th, and others admitted that learning the most efficient way to run the EFI-powered package is still very much a work in progress.

Both Stewart and Edwards said they switched their cars off and on again in attempts to save fuel in the season-opening Daytona 500 without experiencing any problems in re-firing the engine.

"I mean, I just shut the car off like we did at Daytona and turned it back on and it never re-fired. That's all I can tell you," Stewart said. "I don't know why it didn't re-fire; I honestly just don't know. It's not really my department. I just turned the switch back on and it never re-fired. I don't know why that was, but it definitely cost us a good day."

Darian Grubb, crew chief of Denny Hamlin's race-winning No. 11 Toyota, said the No. 20 car driven by Joey Logano had experienced a similar issue at Daytona.

"We have definitely seen that a little bit," Grubb said. "The No. 20 car had that issue at Daytona and that's the reason they couldn't maintain pace on one caution and had to give up a lot of track position. But we're learning daily with all these new tools. Luckily we didn't have any issues. We feel like we've got a pretty good handle on it."

Addington expects to get a better handle on it very shortly.

"We've got to dig into it to see what caused it and when it happened and things like that," said Addington, who added that the SHR teams had noticed the No. 51 Chevy of Kurt Busch experiencing a similar problem during a Phoenix practice prior to Sunday's race. "We're all learning through this process. Zippy was here and Jeff Andrews and they're very sorry that this happened. They didn't expect it to happen. But we're going to have some unexpected things happen with this new system, and it just happened to be us [Sunday].

"We'll just have to work through it and look at some of the data. That was the first time he had shut the engine off to save fuel [on Sunday], and it wouldn't fire back up. So we were dead in the water."

Watch highlights from Subway Fresh Fit 500: