No Stage breaks format getting mixed reviews

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 24: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #84 Club Wyndham Chevrolet, and Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, drive during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 24, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

For the first time this season – and first time since the format was introduced for the 2017 season – there will be no stage breaks during the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. The modification applies only to the six road course events on the 2023 schedule.

Reaction to the change has been mixed among the drivers.

“A handful of years ago, that’s how it was,” Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney said of the elimination of stage breaks. “It’s just [about] pitting the race backwards and this is something we’ve been talking about for a year or so, NASCAR and the drivers. Stage breaks at road courses can just jumble the field up so much it gets messy.”

“I think it’s going to clean it up a bit,” Blaney continued. “I think it’s right for road courses personally. We’ll find out. I had no preference either way, honestly, but I think it’s going to be a better with more strategy involved in the race calling.”

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin said he has some concerns about doing away with the stage breaks and is eager to see how it will play out this weekend. He said he expected the race to be more physically challenging without the scheduled opportunity to pit and noted he planned to make a real effort to stay hydrated – anticipating it to be tougher physically overall for drivers – especially at the demanding 20-turn COTA track.

“I think this thing has the potential of really getting strung out, a lot” Hamlin said. “If we do, I don’t want to hear any complaining because that’s the potential. … this will make for more strategy though.”