Race Weekend Central

Let Them Race

Racers and crew chiefs are smart people.

They are constantly thinking of ways to gain an advantage over their competition and win races. The last thing that a sanctioning body should do is eliminate opportunities for teams to separate themselves from their competition. This past week it was announced that one of the best decisions of this past off-season is being reversed and stage break cautions are returning to road course racing, starting with the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Road courses are some of the most strategy intensive events that we have on the schedule, and scheduling caution periods at the end of the stages basically eliminates two of the major strategy decisions in the races.

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NASCAR Bringing Back Stage Cautions for ROVAL

Stage racing is a good addition to NASCAR racing.

For those of us old enough to remember the old days when David Pearson saw that the best way to win races was to save your equipment for the last 100 miles of the event. There was no incentive for drivers and teams to push their equipment early and face potential part failures. Pearson was the first to do it, but by the mid 90s, most everyone in the sport was logging laps until it was “Go Time” at the end of races.

The result was follow the leader parades that people didn’t enjoy for the middle part of races. The move to eliminate that was the advent of stage racing. The stages incentivized drivers to push early in events and gain points toward the regular season and playoffs. That also allowed the sport to reward drivers for regular season success which was a long time criticism of playoff racing.

While the stages brought action to every portion of the race, they killed strategy for a good portion because of the mandatory caution that was thrown at the end of every stage. That caution allowed teams to plan for lucky dog passes, staying on track to take wave arounds and short pit or long pit to steal stage points. The stages are a good addition to racing, the mandatory caution is a major detriment that leaves a bad taste in fan and competitor mouths.

NASCAR had finally taken a step towards fixing this issue by eliminating the mandatory caution on the road courses this season. The strategy came back into play, at least somewhat, by affording people the option to stay out longer after the end of stages and potentially stretch tires, and or, fuel to make the race on one less stop or leap frog competitors with short pitting strategies.

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The points were still awarded as they always were, but teams were allowed to lay out a strategy and organically change as the race went along, rather that knowing exactly when everyone would pit, at least two of the three stops during the race.

This isn’t a foreign concept in NASCAR and teams have not had a hard time understanding it in the past. For those who have been around since before 2006, they should remember the old halfway money prize that used to be handed out every single race. It cost Dale Jarrett the Brickyard 400 in 1998 when he tried to stretch his fuel to the midway point and the $10,000 check that was paid for leading that lap.

Prior to charters, the midway money was a real bonus for the front of the pack teams and a life changer for the back half of the field. That money was paid out to the leader at halfway, or five consecutive green flag laps after if the race was under caution, without stopping the race or throwing a caution flag. We can do the same thing now with stage break points.

So, for now, we’re back to the strategy killing mandatory cautions that fly at the end of the first two stages of every race (three for the 600 at Charlotte). Due to the fact that we started the year with these rules it makes sense to end the year with consistent rules. Hopefully, when the powers that be gather up and debrief about the 2023 racing season and make tweaks to the rules for 2024, they will notice that the strategy should take precedent over bookkeeping when it comes to race control. The teams know what lap the end of the stage is, they don’t need a flag, just let them race.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Dawg

One of the best decisions that I’ve seen from the suits was eliminating the stage breaks on road courses. Even though the Roval is thin soup, as road courses go. I hate to see them backtracking on that.
IMHO, the whole playoff system is contrived, so this just adds another layer. Plus, the stated reason doesn’t seem like much of a justification.
More like a crutch to allow any playoff team that has fallen off the lead lap to get a freebie.

Jeff H

The unsaid thing here is TV. Stage breaks are good planned commercial breaks, Stage breaks create restarts which can mean carnage. The Glen and Indy were over way too quickly for TV due to the lack of natural cautions. This is all about TV money and nothing else. Same goes for the hokey “playoffs”. gives TV something to talk about during a boring Kansas race.

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