NASCAR’s new stage racing is working exactly how it should – For The Win
With two races remaining in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Martin Truex Jr. has accumulated an astonishing 35 playoff points (and counting).
In past seasons, that number – as well as the solid 15-point lead he has over Kyle Busch in second place – would have been unimaginable. But thanks to NASCAR introducing stages to each race and accompanying playoff points for the winners, Truex has a healthy cushion going into the 10-race, 16-driver playoffs, which start mid-September.
After watching 24 races this season newly broken into three stages – the winner of Stage 1 and 2 receive one playoff point, while the race winner gets 5 – the sport’s new format is working exactly how it was designed to, said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition.
“It has met a lot of the objectives that we set out for it,” Miller told For The Win.
“I know that fan response initially wasn’t all positive, but I think as the season has worn on and they’ve seen the benefits of the increased action around the stage finishes, I think that, by and large, most everybody is in support of the stage racing.”
Judging by people’s reactions on social media, a lot of NASCAR fans still aren’t on board yet. They like things the old way.
But as Miller explained, NASCAR is a dynamic sport, and the stage racing was formatted to emphasize strategy and aggressive racing. It also added an incentive for drivers in every race, so they don’t simply win one of the first races in the spring, qualify for the playoffs and then coast through the rest of the year.
Even if fans were hesitant to embrace the change at first, they’ve come around by now.
Drivers who didn’t love it at first can see how Truex’s absurdly dominant 15 stage wins will give him the upper hand when the playoffs start – another one of NASCAR’s objectives, Miller said. That could be one of them next year.
“Setting up the playoffs as we did and setting up playoff points and the stage points and all of that was to make all of the races during the regular season more relevant to the championship itself,” he said.
Beyond the in-race strategy and enhancing competition, there was also a practical element to the stages.
“When you look globally, it was also a way for the broadcasters not to break away from green flag action as much,” Miller said. “It kind of gave a natural break, so that they could get some spots in. And all of those things have worked well for all of us.”