Lets talk Stages! The second hottest topic of the 2017 NASCAR season thus far has been the initiative to break up races into three stages for the top three NASCAR touring series. (Nod to the Monster Girls for being the hottest topic of 2017!) Each stage is worth Championship points and for the winner, one Chase point. Now I won’t bore you with a full points breakdown before I get into it, but if you need a breakdown click here.
After hearing and seeing fans responses on both Twitter and Sirius XM NASCAR radio, the general consensus was confusion and excitement. Most fans didn’t understand it. Hell, most NASCAR analysts didn’t fully understand it. NASCAR drivers and officials begged us to wait until we saw the product on the track until we passed judgment.
I, myself, was excited for the implementation of the stages. I’m the kind of guy who plans my entire weekend around when the races will be on TV. I watch every lap and follow along intently. Last year we had a ton of exciting results but the races themselves were drawn out and boring. I remember sitting in the stands at the Coca Cola 600 and being utterly disappointed. Sure, it was cool to see Martin Truex Jr. absolutely dominate. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy, but the race was tough to watch.
These segments push drivers to take risks and race hard. I’m not saying drivers don’t max their cars out every lap, but I do believe 100% that they wait until the field is spread out and then go to work. This rule forces them to keep the field together and race hard until the segment ends.
The segments also break the races up. We spend 4 hours as fans watching for 1 moment. We invest in the finish and sometimes the race isn’t filled with much excitement on the way to the checkered flag. That’s racing and it’s part of our sport. Now we have something to look forward to. Who’s going to earn those points at lap 60? Lets watch eagerly and find out!
My point is the stages are a breath of fresh air in our sport.
The Daytona 500! It was what we had all been waiting for. The biggest race of the year was finally here and to top it all off, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was back in the seat of the number 88 Nationwide Chevrolet. The Daytona 500 was the debut of the Segment rule and everyone was excited to see how it worked.
It was absolute mayhem! When have you ever seen the winning car of the Daytona 500 look like it just finished battling at Martinsville?
I can give you a hint: It was 2 years prior to never.
Kurt Busch drove his Monster Energy Ford Fusion to victory lane with a car that was beat beyond aerodynamic efficiency and had no rear view mirror. The race was a demolition derby. Fans took to media outlets to explain their concern about the stages and what kind of problems they were bringing in to the sport. I heard fans say “we wouldn’t have enough cars to finish the race,” “are we going to start handing out participation trophies?” and “we’re putting these guys at an unnecessary risk of getting injured.”
All over NASCAR nation there were knee jerk reactions.
To me, the problem wasn’t the stages, but the 5-minute clock. We can’t expect these crews to tape these cars up in five minutes and send them back on the track without some form of calamity, can we? We’re talking cars that just suffered a massive crash moving 200 mph here. What can you really do in five minutes? Actually, let’s make that four minutes because the clock starts when you hit pit road, not your pit box. We had cars with serious damage doing their best to get back on the track and log laps. It was a disaster.
Week two saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series turn its sights to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Atlanta is an old worn out track that offers massive tire wear and a lot of slipping and sliding. With these new stages, we were bound to see a crazy race, right?
Not quite! The racing was a little lackluster. There weren’t very many wrecks or drivers spinning out. Clint Bowyer was the only driver to suffer major damage. My point is that this race very well could’ve been another 2016 Coca Cola 600. Kevin Harvick could have driven off into the sunset and never looked back, but it wasn’t and he didn’t.
The reason that the race kept us all interested, and tuned in to the race were the stages. The stages guaranteed us two cautions, and two restarts. It gave the drivers a chance to shake things up. At the end of the day, cautions led to cautions. Multiple drivers had issues with pit road speeding, flat tires, and battery problems. We saw the winner of the race, Brad Keselowski, get a penalty for having a member of the crew over the wall too soon. He showed mettle to fight back and earn the win. Kevin Harvick had the race in the bag. No one could touch him. Unfortunately, he took himself out of the race when he sped on pit road during the last caution of the race.
We’ve seen two very contrasting races to start the 2017 season. One was absolute insanity. It felt like we couldn’t race more that ten laps without having a crash. The other was a race of attrition. Who could log the most laps without having a mechanical or mental break down? It was not an “edge of your seat” kind of race but there was still plenty of drama to keep the viewer engaged.
I’m a firm believer that the stages are working. They make the race more exciting for the casual viewer as well as the tenured, diehard NASCAR fan like myself. As we move through the season we’ll continue to see the excitement and drama that the stages bring to the sport. By race ten, the stages will be accepted by most NASCAR fans as a great move by the governing body. Right now, the stages seem a bit foreign and a bit strange, but in the end the stages will be a lasting a beneficial change that will add to the overall health of NASCAR.
I want to hear your opinions! Let’s have an open dialogue. I created this site so that you we as NASCAR fans could debate and discuss our sport freely and openly. What do you think of the new stages? Leave a comment or tweet at me.
Until next time, go fast and turn left!