Bold idea: NASCAR should have made the first stages of races shorter – Yahoo Sports
When NASCAR released the lengths of stages for all of its Cup Series races last week, it was clear the lengths of the first two segments were designed to avoid fuel mileage racing within the segments. It’s not the most thrilling of visuals to see a driver pragmatically save fuel to make it to the end of a stage and collect bonus points while other faster cars have to pit for fuel.
So it’s totally understandable why the sanctioning body extended the lengths of segments 1 and 2 in all 36 Cup races to make sure that everyone will have to pit within a segment. With the first two segments of the Daytona 500 encompassing 60 laps each, drivers will have to stop with approximately 20 laps left in a segment.
But what if NASCAR had gone the other way and shortened each of the first two segments to make sure that drivers could make it to the end of the stage without pitting? Would the format create more compelling racing? We think so.
A main impetus for NASCAR’s stage format was to make drivers race harder in the first part of races. With shorter segments and no guarantee of pit stops or a caution, the urgency would be ratcheted up even more earlier in the race.
At the very least, we wish NASCAR would have varied the lengths of segments at tracks with two races a season. It’s fun to think about the differences of between the first Pocono race of the summer with segments of 50, 50 and 60 laps and the second race with stage lengths of 30, 30 and 100.
Shorter segments would also add importance to qualifying, which has become little more than a formality in a Cup Series where cares rarely fail to make races. Teams would be forced to find the balance between speed in qualifying and speed throughout the majority of a fuel run knowing the opportunity to adjust on the car before the end of the first segment may not happen. With that variable, the fastest cars over a 50-lap run may qualify outside the first few rows, potentially resulting in more passing.
This idea is admittedly also with the goal of minimizing the importance of pit stops. Yes, NASCAR is a team sport and pit crews are an integral portion of every team. But as a slow pit stop can all-too-often ruin a driver’s race, you can make the serious case that stops have too much significance in the outcome of NASCAR races. Fans don’t come to races to see pit stops. And race format changes are about the fans.
With stage lengths guaranteeing a trip down pit road, pit stops are more important than they’ve ever been. A bad pit stop or penalty on lap 110 of the 2016 Daytona 500 meant a driver had 90 laps to get back to the front of the field before points were scored. Now, a bad pit stop on that same lap in 2017 for a driver running fifth at the time will very probably result in the loss of five points.
Shouldn’t segment points simply be awarded to the best drivers at the beginning of races regardless of the ramifications of a pit stop? And if you’re worried about shorter early segments minimizing pit stops, don’t. A longer final segment would still be dependent on overall performance between speed on the track and speed on pit road, much like the race format has always been.
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