NASCAR makes historic changes to the way it races

NASCAR announced changes to the way races are held in all three of its top touring series Monday.

The collaborative effort resulted in a format that will award points based on 3 “stages” during a race. Each segment will also have a winner who will earn “playoff” points, 1 each for a segment win.  These playoff points will be carried over into NASCAR playoffs.

Those playoffs will still be a ten race elimination, however the word “Chase” will no longer be used. Instead that final ten race stretch will now be simply known as the playoffs.

“We introduced a new word, i.e., the Chase, and we liked it at first,” said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. “But when you really talk about it, when (a team owner) is out talking to a sponsor, well, what’s the Chase? Well, it’s our playoffs.”

In addition there will still be Overtime at the end of the race, but not at the end of the stages.  And there will be no points for leading a lap, or leading the most laps.

The group who developed this new format included NASCAR executives, team owners, drivers and track owners and operators who formulated the plan. The final details were worked out during the championship week in Las Vegas in December. Drivers that were part of the group were Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Simply put, this will make our great racing even better,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “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.”

There will be three stages in each race. The top ten finishers in each of the first two stages will be awarded championship points (10 to 1 each) depending on where they finish. At the end of the race championship points will still be awarded as they are now, with the overall race winner getting 40, but the remainder of the of the field will be scored on a 35 to 2 scale, and positions 36th to 40 receiving only 1 point. Winners of each stage will get a single playoff point.  Those playoff points will carry forward and be added to the driver’s totals when the seeding for the playoffs is determined after the 26th race of the season and will be carried throughout the playoffs.

In essence, not only will drivers have more incentive to race harder in each race, but those drivers who perform well during the regular season will be rewarded should that driver make the playoffs. The leader of the championship points at the end of the final regular season race will be awarded 15 playoff bonus points.

During the playoffs, there will still be stages during races and points awarded. Those playoff points (five to the race winner) will carry through to the end of the third round of the playoffs (Round of 8), with the Championship 4 racing straight-up at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title as they do now with only the four highest point holders racing with the top finisher among the four winning the title.

Under this new format, during every race, the pits will be closed five laps prior to the end of a stage; NASCAR will coordinate with the TV broadcasters so pit stops will be covered live.  The order cars exit pit road will determine the starting order for the next stage.  The length of stages will vary from track to track and from race to race.

“There are no off weeks,” said Denny Hamlin. “Every single race matters.  … 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 Stage 2 ending point will now be where NASCAR considers a race official in the case of inclement weather, instead of the halfway point.

Drivers agreed that the changes will cause them to race harder, and not lay back as they have in the past.  In the past once a driver won a race and secured a spot in the Chase (now the playoffs), there seemed little incentive to race hard.

“The more opportunity you have for rewards,” said Hamlin.  “The more risk you are going to put out and risk leads to great racing.”

“That’s what this is meant to do,” explained driver Kurt Busch.  “It’s meant to turn the knob up and to bring in a new element. And then we’re going to have less tires this year at a lot of the racetracks, and so you have to bring in tire management – when you’re going to use them, when you’re not going to use them.”

“And then there’s going to be the luck of the draw,” he added. “Sometimes if you have so many yellows (caution periods) right after you put on a set of fresh tires, you’ve got all these heat cycles on your tires and you think, ‘That was the wrong time to pit.’  So it throws more elements in there that you don’t know are going to happen.”

Drivers were also in agreement that the collaboration itself was unprecedented.

“The most exciting thing to me about the whole format change is just how everybody in our sport came together and had this situation progress into what it has become” said driver Kevin Harvick. “When you make the whole race relevant, you shouldn’t hear drivers say that they were just pacing themselves. There are real goals where you can gain points, and those points will contribute to your championship Chase all the way through the end of the year until the last round at Homestead. Every moment matters. I think everybody has done a great job with that.”

According to NASCAR the new enhanced format consists of the following:

·       Races will now consist of three stages, with championship implications in each stage.

·       The top-10 finishers of the first two stages will be awarded additional championship points.

·       The winner of the first two stages of each race will receive one playoff point, and the race winner will receive five playoff points. Each playoff point will be added to his or her reset total following race No. 26, if that competitor makes the playoffs

·       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 at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title.

·       Championship points following the first two stages will be awarded on a descending scale, with the stage winner receiving 10 points, second receiving 9 points, and so on.

·       The race winner following the final stage will now receive 40 points, second-place will receive 35, third-place 34, fourth-place 33, and so on.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.