NASCAR announces enhancements expected to add drama every lap

Photo courtesy of NASCAR/Getty Images

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Remember the days when one driver dominated a race with nothing to show for it?  And when there wasn’t much else to compete for after clinching a playoff berth? Well, forget those days.

In a joint effort with industry stakeholders, NASCAR has come up with a format for all three of its national series — the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – that should change all that. The enhancements, announced on Monday at the Charlotte Convention Center in North Carolina, are expected to deliver more dramatic moments over the course of a race and season, reward drivers for their efforts and minimize green‑flag interruptions from a broadcast perspective.

“Simply put, this will make our great racing even better,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said. “I’m proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal – strengthening the sport for our fans. This is an enhancement fully rooted in teamwork, and the result will be an even better product every single week.”

The races will now consist of three stages, with championship implications in each.

How does Stage 1 work?

  • The stage will conclude on a specific lap so every race fan, every crew member, every team will know in advance what constitutes a stage length.
  • The race will begin, pit road will be closed approximately five laps prior to the stage ending, and at the conclusion of Stage 1, the top‑10 drivers are awarded points. Ten points for first, nine for second, on down to one for 10th.
  • In addition, the winner of the stage will receive one point for the playoffs.
  • The cars will remain on the track under yellow flag conditions. We’ll open pit road, and pit stops will be covered live.
  • After the cars have cycled through their pit stops, the stage winner and crew chief will be interviewed, either in car, over the PA, or TV, and then Stage 2 will start exactly the way the cars came off pit road.

How does Stage 2 work?

  • Stage 2 works the exact same way as Stage 1 — Top 10 will be awarded points, and there’s one point for the playoffs awarded to the winner.

How does Stage 3 work?

  • The Final Stage of the race will be concluded just like races are today.
  • Race points and purse are paid out based on this stage, and 40 points will be awarded to the race winner; 35 points for second-place, 34 for third and so on.
  • Overtime is still in play. Every effort is made to finish the race under green.  The race winner is playoff eligible and will receive five points for each win for the playoffs.

“These are enhancements that the NASCAR fan has long sought, and the entire industry has worked hard to develop a better racing format for our fans,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer.  “This format puts a premium on every victory and every in-race position over the course of the season. Each point can eventually result in winning or losing a championship.”

Denny Hamlin, a representative of the NASCAR Driver Council, approves of the new format as it provides an incentive even after picking up that first win. Under the old style, it was win and you’re in the playoffs — mission accomplished.

“There are no off weeks,” the Joe Gibbs driver said. “Every single race matters.  I think Steve [O’Donnell] hit the nail on the head there.  Not only that, but every lap of every race matters.

“From our standpoint, you always felt a little bit relaxed once you got a race win, and you would sometimes maybe go into test mode or something.  Now with each accomplishment that you have during each given race, whether you’re collecting points for the overall regular season or you’re trying to collect points through a stage win or a race win, each accomplishment gives your road to Homestead a little bit easier, gives you a little bit of cushion there to be able to get through the playoffs and make it to Homestead, and that’s what it’s all about for us is making it to Homestead and trying to race for a championship, and I think this format does it for it.”

The road to Homestead though won’t start with the “Chase.” NASCAR will ditch that term for the “playoffs.”

“I think where that came from is sitting in a room with this group of folks and a number of others and saying, what do most people understand when they’re talking about sports, and people understand playoffs,” O’Donnell said.

It will also eliminate bonus points for leading a lap or leading the most laps; that’s built into the overall point system.

The playoffs

  • Eligibility remains the same. It’s based on race wins and points.  The number of drivers and teams, the elimination structure all remain, 16 drivers, down to 12, down to 8, down to 4.  You win, and you advance to the next round.
  • The number of rounds remain the same with four; the number of races with 10.
  • NASCAR re‑seeds after each round and the tradition of heading into Homestead with four drivers continues.
  • All playoff points will carry through to the end of the third round of the playoffs (Round of 8), with the Championship 4 racing straight up for the title.

As part of the enhancements, NASCAR will ensure leading a series at the end of the regular season doesn’t go for naught.

“Our fans have spoken and we’ll now declare a regular‑season champion based upon the most points earned through the first 26 races.,” O’Donnell said.  “We’ll also award points for the playoffs based on regular‑season performance, and that will carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs.  What you do in those first 26 races really matters, not only to get into the playoffs but continue to move on in each round.

“Simply put, there are three ways to earn playoff points:  Stage wins, race wins, and regular‑season playoff points. “

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is also on board with the moves.

“I love the fact that the bonus points or the playoff points will carry through the playoffs all the way to the last round,” said NASCAR’s most popular driver.  “So everything you do throughout the season is really going to help you throughout the playoffs.  That’s a great change.

“I was in a unique position this past season to be a driver and a fan, and definitely I think this creates a lot of interest in a part of the event, in every event, every single week where it was needed.”

And for a driver like Martin Truex Jr., who dominated at least seven races in 2016 and came up empty, this must be a welcome change. In the spring race at Kansas, the Furniture Row Racing driver started from the pole and led 172 of the first 211 laps and didn’t win. Now he’ll be able to accumulate points in the stages.

“I’ve had some of those races where you lead 300‑some laps and you lose out in the last five laps, and those really sting, but the opportunity to win both stages and the race and score a perfect race is really big and means more than ever before as much as everything else does,” Penske driver Brad Keselowski said.

Keselowski also said that the strategy where drivers hung out in the back, at say Talladega, could be a thing of the past.

“Yeah, I think the stages, and I think more chances to win, more chances to perform and more spotlights, so I look at races as soon as the plate tracks, especially Talladega, and you might have seen cars that have lagged back in the past,” he said. “You’re not going to do that anymore. ”

Fans won’t have to wait until the Daytona 500 to see the new format.  It will start in the Duels.

“The Duels at Daytona will now actually pay points, so the top‑10 finishers for each of the duels will receive the same points as a stage winner, the 10, the nine, the eight, all the way down to one,” said Joie Chitwood, Chief Operating Officer of International Speedway Corporation. “It does not qualify as a stage win, but it does pay out regular‑season points.”


One Comment

  1. Lester

    January 24, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Great article Y.J.

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