'Fill 'er up?' It isn't so pricey for NASCAR

According to a recent survey, the average cost for a gallon of regular gas nationwide is $2.91.

At my local station, I just pumped $50 worth of gas into my Jeep and never heard the it's-full click; and things aren't expected to get any better for my wallet anytime soon. A report in Business Week says a company that makes the signs telling drivers what a gallon is going for has received an alarming number of requests for 4s recently, presumably to hang just to the right of the "$."

Only one thing to do, really: Find a way to drive less

So I got to wondering. If I'm getting beat up at the pump like this, what sort of hit is NASCAR taking? Those guys seem to guzzle a lot more gas than I do every weekend.

I know stock cars don't use the same type of gas that slugs its way into passenger cars. On the NASCAR circuit, they run on leaded, 112-octane racing fuel. But the natural resource from which it's made -- crude oil -- is the same stuff they use to make the gas that gets me to the office every day.

Incidentally, that isn't the case for Indy and Champ cars. Those machines run on ethanol and methanol.

Anyway, if NASCAR is feeling the fuel-price pinch like the rest of us, should it think about … well, driving less? Why not shorten the races a little, get to the checkered flag a bit sooner, and save some oil?

After all, that's what it did in 1974, when the nation faced a major fuel shortage. To use less gas, NASCAR curtailed 15 of its races that year, including the Daytona 500, which became the Daytona 450. I doubt the circuit would draw fewer fans to Florida in February if they decide to cut it back again.

But other than to show sympathy for the plight of its fans, it turns out NASCAR doesn't have much reason right now to cut down on laps. This isn't a fuel-shortage situation like we experienced three decades ago, and NASCAR's current sponsorship deal with Sunoco includes all the free $5-per-gallon gas it wants. It doesn't cost NASCAR a penny to top the tank off for all 500 miles.

As for Sunoco … well, a company official declined to comment publicly on the matter.

At least I know we shouldn't blame NASCAR's Sunday drivers for helping to push the price of premium into the stratosphere.

"NASCAR's use of the racing fuel has no impact on the availability or price of passenger fuel," said NASCAR spokesman Andrew Giangola, who noted NASCAR has not entertained the notion of cutting any races short. "The gas used in racing is not useable for normal, everyday use. The amount used in NASCAR racing is insignificant when compared to the amount of consumption on highways by passenger cars each year."

In the interest of fact-checking, I did the math.

At last week's Crown Royal 400 in Richmond, Va., a 400-lap race that covers 300 miles, the 43 drivers who started had the pedal to the metal for a total of 11,777 miles -- figuring in the stopping points for the cars that didn't finish. At an average of seven miles per gallon, that's 1,682 gallons of gas.

On, Friday, according to the Energy Information Administration, Americans used 8.52 million barrels of gas, each of which holds 42 gallons. That's 357.84 million gallons consumed by American drivers in a single day, or 14.91 million gallons per hour, or 248,500 gallons per minute, or 4,141.7 gallons per second.

So what have I learned? I've learned that in a 20-second period of time on an average day, Americans fill up their tanks with as much gas as NASCAR uses during its entire Nextel Cup Series race schedule.

Comparatively, then, NASCAR is really just a drop in the bucket. Or a drop in the barrel.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.