Race Weekend Central

No Stage Cautions at COTA Draws Mixed Reviews From Drivers

AUSTIN, Texas — NASCAR’s weekend at Circuit of the Americas isn’t an ordinary one, as it’s the first time since 2016 where a race didn’t have stage cautions.

As part of a new implementation on road courses in the 2023 season, stage points and stages will still be implemented — there just won’t be a caution immediately after.

The change was implemented as the leaders would typically have to pit before the end of a stage and sacrifice stage points in order to retain their track position out front for the following restart. Cautions on road courses also have the potential to be excruciatingly long, and the absence of a stage caution would limit the amount of time that the field would be running pace laps.

With how engrained stages have become in NASCAR since 2017, this weekend is a big undertaking; there are several Cup drivers that have known nothing but stage racing in their NASCAR tenures.

And with such a change, there will be skepticism. Denny Hamlin was perhaps the biggest critic in that regard.

“We improved the sport when we got stages,” Hamlin said. “It was well thought out, the points system and all that goes with it is good, and we did this to help TV. Obviously, you need to have somewhat of a break …

“Again, if you don’t like some races, if you don’t like the old Atlanta, you won’t like no stage racing at all tracks, because [the cars] can really get strung out like that if you let it.”

Joey Logano gave a relatively neutral answer, but he also didn’t have a problem with road-course pit strategy or an occasional race reset.

“I guess, I can see both sides, right?” Logano said. “Like, when we added stage cautions to road-course racing, it didn’t ruin the strategy, it just changed it. …

“I’m a fan of yellows every now and again because it resets the field and gives you some recovery opportunities. It makes big moments.”

On the other hand, Logano understood the point of view for fans that wanted to see races naturally play out without predetermined cautions.

“Obviously [at COTA], restarts are stupid,” Logano said. “You have some big moments for the fans that way, but I also see the authentic racing and letting it play out and let natural cautions happen. I guess I see both sides.”

He also recognized that extended stage cautions were a major problem.

“The part that sucks on road courses too is if the caution comes out a lap or two before the end of the stage and you just have these really long cautions, right?” Logano said. “It’s like, ‘ugh.’ Maybe there’s a way to have a floating caution, floating stage? Caution comes out two laps before and that’s the end of the stage? Just call it that and we go racing? I feel like that might be a good happy medium somewhere in there.”

Second-year NASCAR Cup Series driver Harrison Burton was excited to experience a race without predetermined cautions; all three of NASCAR’s national touring series had stage cautions on his way up the racing ladder.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” Burton said. “You know, it’s going to be an endurance race, right? There’s going to be guys hot, a road course, long laps. Could run this thing green for a majority. …

“I think it’ll bring some strategy into play and take some out as well. Overall, it’s going to be interesting for sure.”

See also
Xfinity Breakdown: AJ Allmendinger Refuses to Lose at COTA

NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Justin Allgaier finished fifth at COTA on Saturday (March 25) and he had a glowing review for what he saw in the race.

“Today, it was all about the unknowns,” Allgaier said. “This new no cautions at stages [is] absolutely my favorite. It made today so much fun, and I hope the fans really enjoyed it.”

Allgaier also expressed his desire to have no stage cautions return to oval racing.

“I’m always in on cautions if we don’t need them,” Allgaier said. “Cautions breed cautions and for me, it’s not something I enjoy. I feel like today was perfect and I’m looking forward to seeing what conversation that starts. And if they go to an oval with it, I’ll be more than happy.”

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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5 Comments
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Bill B

What was stupid was having Cup drivers take the top three finishing positions.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR will only see the $$$$$$$ from the networks for their TV time outs and make their decisions accordingly.

Christopher

Stage breaks, as opposed to stage points, have always been an abomination. As far as Hamlin’s sentiments, he contradicts himself by praising stage breaks while at the same time advocating for shorter races.

Jill P

They’ve been replaced by more cautions for “debris”.

Shayne

We hear all the time how NASCAR drivers are so tough and most have personal trainers. Now, some drivers need cautions so they can rest? The best drivers on the planet can’t run an entire race without scheduled breaks?

I’m glad Mr. 7-Time Jimmie Johnson fell flat on his face along with the F-1 relics. When the car count is down, bring on the ringers. Back in the day we called them field fillers.

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