The reasoning behind NASCAR’s new stage-based race format is pretty basic: Improving competition is a bigger priority than simplifying the math is.
In each of NASCAR’s top three segments, the races will be broken into three stages for 2017: The first two stages will each be roughly one-quarter distance with brief breaks in between. The third and final stage will be about half the race distance.
Here are the particulars:
• The top-10 finishers of the first two stages will be awarded additional championship points. The stage winners get 10 points, second place is worth 9 points, third place gets 8 points and on down to 10th place, which pays 1 point.
• The race winner following the final stage will now receive 40 championship points, second-place will receive 35, third-place 34, fourth-place 33, and so on.
• A combination of race wins and championship points will determine who makes it into NASCAR’s playoffs, which will no longer be called the Chase. From now on, it’s just playoffs.
• Race victories and championship points determine who makes NASCAR playoffs. But drivers will also earn playoff points fro winning stages and races.
• The winner of the first two stages of each race will receive 1 playoff point, and the race winner will receive 5 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.
Admittedly, it’s more complicated than the old 1-point-per-position system used since 2011.
But here’s what it does:
• Drivers now have an incentive to race hard in the first half of the race to earn points in the first two stages of races. No more laying back for the first 400 miles of a race and hoping for a good finish.
• More importantly, while winning an early season race still locks a driver into the playoffs, no longer will race-winning drivers and teams go into test mode — trying experimental setups for the playoffs — once they’ve won a race.
Last year, if a driver won the Daytona 500, all they had to do for the next 25 races was stay in the top 30 in points and they were all but guaranteed to make the playoffs, so some of them cruised during the summer.
With playoff points awarded in every stage of every race now, there will be considerable incentive to race hard all the time.
“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,” said Denny Hamlin.
“I love the fact that the bonus points or the playoff points will carry through the playoffs all the way to the last round,” added Dale Earnhardt Jr. “So everything you do throughout the season is really going to help you throughout the playoffs. That’s a great change.”
And it should produce better racing. That’s what NASCAR is counting on.