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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Time for NASCAR to Rethink Stage Racing

NASCAR stage racing has been around since 2017. Now in the fifth year of its current format, will this rule be the next one to fall by the wayside as the sport goes through a wave of recent changes?

As recently as a few years ago, it seemed almost unbelievable NASCAR would make major adjustments to its Cup Series schedule.  However, the 2021 season brought a dirt race to Bristol Motor Speedway and a visit to Circuit of the Americas (COTA).  Still to come are the first ever Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the first top-tier NASCAR race at Road America in over 60 years.

Looking toward the future, many in the industry are keeping watch on the developments surrounding Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, as well as the planning of Auto Club Speedway’s reconfiguration into a short track.  There is even talk about hosting a street race in Chicago.  Give NASCAR credit for following through with its pledge to bring more road courses and short tracks to the Cup Series schedule.

That said, the exploration of new racing venues comes with a caveat.  If NASCAR is going to continue experimenting with new types of tracks, especially road courses, then the sanctioning body must be willing to make changes to its race day operations and competition rules.  Some fans have advocated for expanded use of local yellows.  Additionally, the Cup Series race at COTA revealed NASCAR still has a lot to learn about racing in the rain.

Yet if there is one policy that is currently holding NASCAR’s road racing back, it is stages.  The problems with this type of split racing format have been so numerous and frustrating they have become a detriment to NASCAR at every type of track.  Simply put, stage racing has not delivered on the goals or promises that supported its creation.  So, while NASCAR is in a mood for evaluating of the Cup Series schedule, why not talk about revising, or eliminating, stage racing?

Both of the Cup Series events this weekend and next highlight some of the problems with stage racing.  During a typical race, drivers who perform well during the first and second stages can rack up a lot of points, perhaps too many compared to what is earned by their finishing position.  It is not uncommon to see someone other than the race winner earn more points in a typical race weekend thanks to stages.  This problem is magnified in the Coca-Cola 600, which is the only race split into four stages.  As a result, NASCAR’s longest race offers more points than any other event all year.

The logic behind offering extra stage points for the Coca-Cola 600 has never made sense.  It may be NASCAR’s longest race, but it is not the most important or prestigious.  The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s marquee event each season, without question, and should award the most points.  Yes, NASCAR does offer bonus points for top-10 finishes in the Daytona qualifying races.  But those are technically separate events that have not been considered official races of the Cup Series season for decades.

That means the Coca-Cola 600 is the only event with extra points offered to a full field of competitors during the race itself.  It may be a longer race than the Daytona 500, but longer doesn’t automatically mean better or carry additional weight.

Correlating stage points with race length is not consistent with NASCAR’s rules.  Otherwise, wouldn’t a typical Cup Series race of about 300 miles at tracks like Phoenix Raceway or New Hampshire Motor Speedway only be two stages?  It seems like the sanctioning body just threw an extra stage into the Coca-Cola 600 for the sake of breaking the race up even more.  And if you are going to split a 600-mile event into four segments of 150 miles each, then what is the point of having an endurance race in the first place?

Meanwhile, next week’s race at Sonoma Raceway is likely to be negatively impacted by stages.  In years past, one of the best aspects of racing at Sonoma was the different pit strategies teams would use.  Generally speaking, the goal was to either complete the race with two pit stops and spend the least amount of time possible on pit road, or use a three-stop strategy with the added benefit of fresh tires and an opportunity for adjustments closer to the end of the race.

But since nobody knew if or when the yellow flag would come out, crew chiefs had to be flexible.  Teams needed to have a plan in place before the race, but the plan could not be so rigid as to be rendered ineffective by a caution period.  Watching teams trying to adapt their strategies to changing race conditions made Sonoma fun.

But with stage racing, the element of surprise is gone.  Knowing ahead of time when two cautions are coming creates a situation where race day strategies are much more uniform throughout the field.  As a result, the last few races at Sonoma have been glorified parades.  Instead of drivers trying to leapfrog their way to the front of the pack with good strategy, the only way to make up ground is on track.  That can be quite tricky in a big, heavy stock car on a twisty track like Sonoma, where passing opportunities are limited.

Hopefully, NASCAR’s Gen-7 car will be better suited to Sonoma, which has suffered in the Gen-6 era.  But removing stages there certainly would not hurt.

There are other ways stages have caused unintended problems.  NASCAR has argued in the past that dedicated caution periods following stages will provide natural opportunities for commercials, which will cut down on green flag commercial time.  However, anyone who watched Friday’s (May 28) Camping World Truck Series race knows NASCAR’s broadcast partners have no qualms about showing commercials within 10 laps of a stage ending and during the following caution period.

Additionally, while stage endings do cause drivers to race more aggressively during the middle portions of races, they also create opportunities for extra crashes.  You see this trend happen most often on superspeedways, venues where NASCAR’s drivers don’t need any additional risk of serious wrecks.  There is also the very valid philosophical objection cautions should only be used when there is a hazardous condition on the track and not for entertainment purposes.

Considering all of its drawbacks, stage racing is more trouble than it’s worth.  Yet NASCAR continues to stand by the policy.  That is exactly why any schedule changes, experimentation with race format and even the design of the new car must be meant with some skepticism.  NASCAR should actively seek to create a better racing product but its leadership has not shown a willingness to admit mistakes or walk back policies that don’t work.  The use of stages, not to mention the elimination style playoffs, is proof enough of that.

Perhaps a new schedule full of road courses and short tracks really will usher in an era of better racing.  But leaving the current stage format unattended brings a risk of taking these potentially positive changes and dragging them down.

See also
Up to Speed: Stage Racing Makes All-Star Event Just Another Race

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: CHARLOTTE

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Odell Hill

I think they need get out politicking in racing and get back real roots of racing.stop penalising teams for hard work and let them race instead trying to turn it in to fake wrestling.

Leon

Tell it brother.

Jo

Fly those Confederate flags, all you rednecks!

BartRambler

It was better racing when they did fly those flags. Nascar is more boring than F1 now. I can’t believe I typed that.

Donnie

Yes, it’s not a sport for everyone and trying to make it so is really trashing it. I don’t watch anymore and used to love it. Diversity sucks !

Bobby owens

They’ve done nothing but screw up NASCAR in the last 15 years, a bunch of idiots running it in the ground

Mike Mitchell

You are not alone in your statement.
Let’s see racing as it was meant to be.
If your first ,you win! End of story!

Joseph Faggione III

Stage racing can happen just stop the damm cautions .
Too many commericals during
broadcast any way.

Roger jenkinsqq

Amen

RW Sterner

When we want see heat races , we go to the Orange Show and watch the pinto stocks. Time for nascar to get back to Grand National racing and see real racing. Throw out the restricted plates while you’re at it. I was going to Riverside when I was a kid and there was plenty of excitement at the races.

Peter

Can’t see don’t race!!!!!

Mike Allen

I’m reading all these comments and yes Orange show I remember that as a kid I’m in Montana now days but that’s one thing I do miss is the old Orange show and The pintos

Susan Thuringer

NASCAR was at it’s best in the 1990’s and 1920’s. Then it started restrickter place racing, and it’s gone down hill from there. Every change resulted pushed the fans further away. My friends and I don’t bother to go racer venues, nor will we if something realistically changes

Susan Thuringer

*2000’s

Jason Matthews

I’m a fan of stage racing, or at least with this package. Without those breaks, 2/3 of the field would be a lap down. Plus most 1.5’s are glorified parades.

Bill B

“Without those breaks, 2/3 of the field would be a lap down.”
So?
If you can’t stay on the lead lap then you don’t deserve to be on the lead lap. What you are saying you like about the stages is that they artificially prop up teams that can’t compete. It’s really a form of welfare. I want cars/teams to get the finish they deserve. So what you consider to be a “pro” of stage racing, I consider to be a “con”. I guess it all depends on what you think professional sports should be.

David L Phillips

I wholly agree. Stage racing and the elimination championship series are detrimental to the sport, they only serve to make each race boringly predictable, and unfair to the drivers while making Nascar a mockery of the terms Sport and Competition.

Brian

I totally agree. I like stage racing because it’s like a race within a race. There is no sandbagging because the points are so important. I do not like the yellow flag though.

Hervy L Myers

Go. Back to racing and quit changing the format if it is a 500 mile then race 500 miles and let the best team and driver win. I quit watching because of all the changes

Joseph Faggione III

Look you cam have stage racing and award stage points just dont throw manditory caution flags.
Nascar today is a joke . The brodcast are 40% commericals and only bits and peices of actual racing.
No fans not sport.
As a life long fan I refuse to waste 5 hours watching a crap product.
Plue the manic Nascar yellows need to stop.
We know they dk this just go bunch up the field up and cause a ” close finish” aka : wreckfest while they screw the team who was great on long runs.
Nascar better fix this .

BartRambler

Slow cars should be 25 laps down, because they are slow. It’s racing not pre-k soccer.

Bob Ramsey

In the beginning I didn’t like the stages. Then it seemed like the racing got better because drivers fought for position for points. That fight has seemed to of dissipated for the most part. So with that said I agree, time for them to either go or be revamped

Jo

The issue of driver safety at Dega and Daytona has nothing to do with stage racing. It’s a function of plates/spacers at those tracks. Eliminate the stages there. IN FACT, eliminate racing there altogether until the cars can run wide open without becoming airborne.

The only change I would make is to give the winner of the race an extra bonus in the points, beyond the 5 Playoff points.

This is the worst article FS has ever run which is saying a lot for the most backward-thinking Neanderthal site in any sport. Click-bait at its worst! The woman who posted she wanted to go back to the 1920’s was typical of the readers here. And also of the columnists.

Rod Bales

I watched NASCAR forever. Huge fan.
They lost me with the stage races.
If I watch at all it is just for the last 10 laps or so. There doesn’t seem to be any point to watching the early stages, cause they stop to let everybody catch up, then restart and have a big wreck.
A NASCAR race is just commercials and wrecks, but not a lot of racing.
I never miss open wheel, Indy and F 1.
They have real races. Pit strategy etc.
NASCAR, I am just not interested anymore. Sorry. The Stage racing lost me. I don’t understand why they alienate their real fans for the sake of trying some poorly conceived strategy.
The point of. NASCAR race was the length of the race and the epic struggle to come out on top.
Stopping to let everybody catch up, for a sprint race at the end, makes everything before meaningless.

Steven

I quit watching when they implemented stages. They need to go back to old school racing, when the fastest car to finish first was the winner.

April Thompson

I was an avid fan of NASCAR for over 30 years, and then they started implementing rule change after rule change every year. I’m all for changes that protect the driver but why rule changes. Racing isn’t racing anymore. The stage racing isn’t so bad, but the playoff format is the worst thing NASCAR has done. I haven’t watched much racing in last six to eight years. It just doesn’t even interest me anymore.

Matt Bowler

I agree, there was even a time they were changing the rules weekly. How are you supposed to build a car when they are constantly changing the rules?

Lori

Since NASCAR went to stage racing have stopped watching it, Liked the way it was back in the day, 70’s 80’s and 90’s when racing was racing!

Gilbert Dickerson

I THINK THEY SHOULD GO BACK TO OLD SCHOOLS RACING
DROPS THE FLAG AN LET THEY RACE TO THE END GET RID OF ALL THE STAGE RACING
IT’S A BUNCH OF BULL SHIT

Wally Lopez

Nascar USE to be fun to watch. With all the new constantly changing rules and ridiculous penalties it’s no wonder that drivers still want to compete and race. Lighten it up officials, u guys are acting like the government by constantly over thinking things. Just let them race. Yes, the cars are alot safer and let them do what we all want to see, cars screaming around a track. Why are restriction plates needed. These cars were built for speed, not to restrict their air flow to make them go slower. U want more fans, make these changes and u WILL get the fans back. I have been watching racing since the 80’s and its so difficult to enjoy it now. Between pit road entrance speed and other insane rules, maybe I will start watching trees grow…until that has changes.

Shane Kepler

They should not stop the race at stage ending. Let it run its course. Points can be distributed via the running order.

Jack

Yes I agree!!!! Keep the stages so they drive hard all race not just the end BUT stay green!!!!! Use yellow for real cautions (actual wreck, fluid on track or real debris on the track). Use the computer to determine stage points but keep racing.

Matt Bowler

Yes! This is an awesome IDEA!

Ed

Start Races st 2:30 pm not 3:30 pm when you have to get to the at 6 for a good parking time especially Daytona

Thomas Smith

Stage racing is unwatchable. It just proves that the races are too long.

Keith!!

I liked racing back when it was racing! That was when you could tell what kind of car it is without having to read it on the bumper. They all look the same to me! If you got a lap down you didn’t get free passes. You didn’t get to pick which lane you wanted to restart in. At the end of the year the one with the most points was the winner. What happened to STOCK CAR RACING!!!

Gary

Get rid of the playoffs and stages altogether. Whoever wins the most races during the season should win the championship. Second place is the first loser.

Ray

Stage racing is not racing. The Nascar points system is not working. I don’t even watch a race anymore until the last 30 laps.

Benny GOSS

NASCAR need to get rid of stage racing. This is why I quit watching NASCAR.

rod Turner

I wish they would do away with stage racing as well as the playoffs. NASCAR IS NOT A BALL SPORT.

RONNIE

I hate the stages….I long for the days of the long runs and possible gas and tire management. Get the sport back to it being a team sport, there is alot more to entertaining races than just the driver. I don’t want all the teams identical, IROC didn’t do it for me.

Thomas

They really need to consider timed races. Three hours…clock never stops ticking…that is more exciting then five hours with all of the stages imho

David Russell Edwards

ultimately TV will dictate something similar.

John

Make some changes Nascar. Stage racing is like having a time out… Screw that, racing don’t have time outs. Road courses ? I hate road courses, if I wanted to watch road courses, I’ll watch the Indy cars. Bristol on dirt ? Change the racetrack back to what it was in the 90’s. You’ll sell the place out again. It used to be the most wanted ticket,. Now,. Who cares ??

Bob

Stage racing falls in line with the squeamish that give losers a trophy too, to go along with the spanking they just got.
If you can’t stay on the lead lap ?
Than your a lap down snuffy
That’s real racing
Dale Earnhardt came from a lap down to win more than once. ( without the free pass)

Dennis l

As a corporate 50 firm we had considered NASCAR. Quickly changed our minds. It was simple just look at their thoughts. In recent years maybe 10 teams,20 drivers have a chance to win. They have the money,the sponsors the facilities and the talent. They are now trying to regulate /money cap teams in an effort to make underfunded teams competitive. Look at 2019 2020. It didn’t work. Cut the teams to 20 competitive teams,sponsors will be on board. Who wants to put sponsorship money on a 36th place car. They never even get on tv. Look at pit guns,if Joe Gibbs came to us and said give me $750 k and I can gain 2 places a lap in the pits we would have given him $1M and said give us 3 places.

NASCAR is dying from its own lack of the ability to change. They are the proverbial “beating a dead horse” mentality Bye NASCAR. We kept our millions in sponsorship. There are other sports whom gladly with accept it and whom are willing to accept changing demographics.

Stephen Latour

I’d say climate the guaranteed starting the race if not fast enough then go home

Charlie

I love stage racing. The only thing I would change is counting the yellow flag laps for the artificial cautions. Personally, I like the stages that encourage drivers to not just ride around and wait for the end of the event to actually start racing.
WRT to road courses, I like the recent additions. It proves that these are some of the most talented drivers in all of racing that can do more than turn left.
The last thing I, and probably sponsors, want to see is someone winng the race by 6 laps. Boring.

Duaine Stillman

Fox doesn’t do a very good job at showing all race positions. Shows only top 20 positions most of the time. If another network broadcasts races, they do a better job. Krista Gotta is missed on broadcasts, did a better job than the woman they got now.

David Onder

I wasnt a fan of stages when it was discussed,I’m not for it since it’s been implemented, but,if you’re going to continue with them,DONT THROW THE YELLOW at the end of them,its all monitored, so,apply the points as you do,stop helping these slower cars,and make the crew chiefs,engine dept,engineers do their jobs with calculating the car…LET EM RUN!!
ALSO the last 50 miles of the race,start yanking these multiple laps down cars off the track,they’re only getting what 2 points anyway!!!!

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