Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Breaking Down Stage Breaks

NASCAR’s new policy of implementing stages into races is in full effect, and it is quite wild.

It seems like ages ago since NASCAR made the major step of having double-file restarts, rather than having lapped cars restart on the low line of the leaders, enabling them to have a chance to get their lap(s) back. But now, a few years later, the next round of changes are in full effect.

Those double-file restarts are coming into quite the good use these days, with NASCAR’s new idea of stage racing becoming the ultimate plot twist needed to make races more exciting in the Monster Energy era.

Thus far, things are off to a hot start.

Speaking of hot starts, no one is hotter in NASCAR than Kyle Larson. The Drive for Diversity program is showing that the investment in him is paying off, especially now that he is leading the points in NASCAR’s premier division.

Q: Are there a set amount of caution laps between laps? Becky Lee W., Lynchburg, Virginia.

A: The stages are broken into pieces, with the first two lasting approximately one-quarter of each race and the final stage consisting of nearly half of the event. Thanks to this policy, it still enables teams to mess around with strategies instead of knowing exactly when they will need to pit.

But with this new policy, the varying stages have been interesting to watch. Known as a bathroom break by many fans this year, the stages are quite popular, especially amongst millennial fans, who are thrilled by the action that ensues once the green flag is back in the air.

At the start of the season, there was no set number of laps for stage breaks. During the Daytona 500, the two stages had breaks of six laps and four laps, respectively.

However, during the next four contests, NASCAR split things up. There were no breaks longer than six laps and none more than seven laps. The only seven-lap cautions occurred during the breaks in between Stage 1 and Stage 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and at Phoenix International Raceway.

While it would be awesome if NASCAR implements a set number of laps per stage break based upon track size, it is still a work in

NASCAR is currently searching for that “sweet spot” for the length of time under caution between stages. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

progress. The sanctioning body needs to be careful, though, because if the stage breaks are too long and if a race is rather dull, fans could click that remote control and swap channels mid-race.

Q: Should Chip Ganassi be concerned about Kyle Larson racing sprint cars? – Jason R., Phoenix.

A: Owners have always been worried about drivers racing in other divisions. Rick Hendrick used to be one of the most vocal voices in the garage about the topic, and as of late, that voice moved to Joe Gibbs.

Gibbs always makes his voice well-known, especially when it is something he feels very passionate about. When dealing with Tony Stewart and later on Kyle Busch, he made it clear that the two drivers needed to limit their time in racecars that were not their NASCAR stock cars.

But in a time when drivers with a diverse background are as rare as penguins in the Middle East, Larson is a hot commodity. Ganassi cannot afford to have anything happen to him, and the same can be said from longtime Ganassi partner Target.

Losing a driver to injury is already risky. Just ask Joe Gibbs Racing about when Busch was injured in a NASCAR XFINITY Series wreck at Daytona.

“Let’s just say this: I do get concerned when he wants to do that,” Ganassi said in a USA TODAY Sports interview. “I would say I’d be much happier if he said he wanted to go play golf. But also, at the same time, I don’t want to slow him down. If he thinks that makes him better, OK, great. If he thinks that’s slowing him down, I would think he would stop it. But for now, he thinks it makes him better.”

And the argument that racing sprint cars is certainly a realistic one. Let’s face it: Larson learned his skills of rim-riding on a slick racetrack thanks to his time in sprint cars. If one were to have taken that away from him, he likely would not be where he is today.

Obviously, Ganassi should certainly be concerned about Larson’s health. A discussion of how frequently he races sprint cars is probably coming once again now that he is the Monster Energy Cup Series points leader.

But if Ganassi does not want to lose what might be the best driver to enter the seat of one of his stock cars, he needs to be lenient to the point where Larson and he have a mutual respect for one another’s priorities.

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There is zero reason why these stage breaks need to be so long. It is ridiculous how long they last and take away laps from actual racing. If they did not count no big deal but they do and it sucks. I can understand Daytona and Dega maybe taking extra laps to sort the field due to the close racing but the past four races should not be an issue.

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