HAMPTON, Ga. – In a state currently suffering through severe drought, it was an excess of water that turned out to be a big problem at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
At least three teams, including Denny Hamlin's, said they found water in the fuel they used at the track. Hamlin was leading when his engine lost power with four laps remaining in Sunday’s Pep Boys 500. The teams of Greg Biffle and Dave Blaney reported the same problem.
Crew chiefs and NASCAR officials were attempting late Sunday to trace the chain of custody, trying to find where the problem might have originated. Preliminary tests from the Sunoco pumps used at the track showed no water in the fuel, NASCAR said.
Although team officials are not yet certain, the problem might have contributed to Hamlin’s engine problems on the Lap 321 restart. Hamlin, running low on fuel, elected to stay on the track, but when the race restarted his engine wouldn’t run.
Hamlin slowed dramatically and was hit from behind by Martin Truex, who had led 135 laps in the race, the most of any driver. Kyle Busch, who led 77 laps, also got collected in the accident.
"I felt we were pretty good on fuel and even felt like we were real close even if it went green-white-checkered," Hamlin said. "All day, we had been getting water in our fuel, we weren’t getting the full potential of the fuel.”
“It’s just one of those times when you think your luck is going to change. You think it’s your day and it just wasn’t our day.
"I feel bad for the guys behind us who got caught up in that wreck.”
NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter confirmed after the race that several teams had reported finding water in their fuel.
“We have looked into it with Sunoco and confirmed there was no water in the gas that was dispensed from the tanks here at the race track,” he said. “John Darby (Nextel Cup Series director) and our other officials will continue to look into it.
“There are a lot of things that could have happened. It’s not the first time water has been found in a gas tank. There are all sorts of possibilities.”
Sabotage is also a possibility, Hunter said. “There are ways people could put something in there. We don’t anticipate that. We have security here all night,” he said.
Tommy Baldwin, Blaney’s crew chief, said his team had the fuel problems throughout the race.
“We didn’t know what was going on (with the engine) and we drained (the fuel cell) and it was half water, half fuel,” he said. “I’m guessing maybe it was because we were one of the first ones, us and (Hamlin), to get fuel this morning.”