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Sunday
Feb262012

Daytona 500: Save Gas The NASCAR Way

Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR(WASHINGTON) -- Think you're paying too much for gas? Be glad you're not filling up for the Daytona 500. The gas NASCAR drivers will put into their tanks on Sunday costs $7.80 a gallon.

With tax, it's $8.26—roughly twice what Americans now are paying at the pump. Of course, it's not ordinary gas. "It's a specialty product made in small batches" said Thomas Golembeski, a spokesman for Sunoco, a company that makes it.

It's got 15 percent ethanol, it's unleaded, and it delivers more horsepower than ordinary gas. NASCAR goes through about 450,000 gallons of it during a racing season. While that may sound like a lot, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates more fuel gets used every year by idling trucks. Somewhere around 12,000 to 14,000 gallons is used at Daytona. While year to year the total amount of gas used at Daytona hasn't varied much, the gas itself has. NASCAR drivers used ethanol blended fuel in 2011.

But NASCAR, as part of an effort to make itself look green and environmentally-friendly, switched to a new customized Sunoco blend called Green E15 with 15 percent corn-based ethanol.

NASCAR drivers say it delivers 6 percent to 8 percent more horsepower. Sunoco makes the ethanol at its plant in Fulton, N.Y., then blends it with high octane unleaded at a facility in Marcus Hook, Penn.

It's then delivered directly to Daytona and other NASCAR race tracks via a dedicated fleet of tanker trucks. At Daytona, as at other NASCAR races, drivers get their gas for free from Sunoco.

But that doesn't mean fuel costs aren't a big part of professional drivers' overhead, off the racetrack.

They burn through gas to transport their vehicles and personnel to and from the track, and they pay those bills out of their own pocket.

"Getting our cars to the racetrack costs a ton in gas money for the haulers," NASCAR driver Richard Childress told USA Today in 2008, during the last big spike in gas prices. "Bringing our people to the tracks, the rising costs of jet fuel. It's very, very expensive to do what we're doing."

Since 2004, NASCAR has partnered with the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association to encourage motorists to save gas and reduce emissions. It has committed more than $50 million worth of ads telling consumers how to 'Be Car Aware.'

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