NASCAR Finally Offers Fans More for Their Money Instead of Less
Imagine spending a big coin for a concert ticket, then watching the band stop playing in the middle of the song and start moping. NASCAR does this to its fans twice per race and gets away with calling it a “stage race”.
It’s just as boring as watching NBA teams take 20 minutes to play the last 75 seconds of an eight-point game — and even more pointless.
NASCAR finally did a little something — with little emphasis — about it this week. Hopefully this is a gradual step towards eliminating all stage racing for good.
Which tracks will not use stage races in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season? Kyle Busch drives during NASCAR Cup Series GB Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 21, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images
NASCAR will drop stage racing in its six Cup Series road races over the coming season and in select Xfinity and Truck races, it announced Tuesday.
The first of the affected Cup Series races will take place on March 26 at the Circuit of the Americas. The others are Sonoma, the Chicago Urban Course, the Indianapolis Road Course, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.
Stage points will be awarded on the two designated laps, but the race will not be interrupted. Additionally, stage winners will always earn a bonus point in the playoffs.
The only road courses with stage breaks will be the Xfinity races in Portland and Road America and the Craftsman Truck Series race in Mid-Ohio. NASCAR makes these exceptions because most regular pit crew will be supporting Cup Series cars at other venues on the corresponding weekend.
Most fans find stage races boring because they interrupt the flow of the race and drag away the leaders who have worked hard to gain an advantage in the peloton. The fact that these laps under caution count makes the situation worse.
The effect on competition is even more drastic on road courses as the need for green flag pit stops is almost nil. Drivers who head into the pits shortly before the end of the first stage under the old system do so as a strategy to gain position when other cars stop during the stage break.
When did NASCAR start stage racing?
NASCAR will eliminate stage breaks on road courses, with the exception of standalone Truck and Xfinity events. Points still awarded
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) January 31, 2023
NASCAR instituted stage races and associated bonus points in 2017. The winner of the stage earns 10 points for the season standings and one bonus point for the playoffs. The next nine finishers earn from one to nine points depending on their position.
The work in the score tower will not be more difficult than it already is. If there is any impact, it will be on NASCAR’s television partners, who have used stage breaks to insert more commercials into the telecast. In theory, that means more green flag interruptions for fans watching at home. Even some of those fans might consider this an acceptable compromise.
“One of our most important elements was our fans,” senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer explained on Fox’s NASCAR Race Hub. “They threw away their advice and (we were) talking with our teams. When we introduced stage races four or five years ago, it basically took a lot of the strategy out of the road courses.
A stage could still end under yellow if a warning flag is thrown for a late-stage incident, but that will be the exception rather than the rule.
Fans finally get more bang for their buck instead of less
Have you noticed that that two pound box of cereal you used to buy in 2019 now weighs 29.5 ounces and costs more than it used to? It’s called shrinkage, and it’s done to avoid an even more drastic price increase.
NASCAR has its own ongoing shrinkage. Last season, Martinsville shortened its spring race from 500 laps on the half-mile track to 400 in a nod to the fact that a 7:30 p.m. start time meant fans were spending many hours late at night on the way back.
This season, two more races will be shorter than before. The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400, a 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway playoff race, goes from 500 miles to 400. The spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway takes the same haircut.
As a result, the only 500-mile races on the schedule are the Daytona 500, the two dates at Talladega, and the Southern 500 at Darlington. The Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte remains (obviously) at 600 miles.
Every announcement of a shorter race leads to complaints from fans who say they get less for their money. NASCAR giving them back more “real race” laps on road courses is a positive step in the other direction.
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