Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Notable COTA Rule Changes to Watch

With the first NASCAR Cup Series road course of the season on tap this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for the Echopark Texas Grand Prix, there are a few rule changes that fans should keep in mind.

Some drivers have mixed feelings about a few of them, others seem like no brainers, but overall, it should lead to a better racing product when the Next Gen cars hit the track this weekend after the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series cars get their races in.

See also
NASCAR TV Schedule This Weekend: March 22 - 24

The first of these is the pushing back of the restart zone and what that could mean for the race itself. The old restart zone was in the middle of the straightaway coming out of turn 20. Now, though, the restart zone has moved significantly closer to the turn, meaning that the drivers will have almost the entire length of the main straightaway headed into turn 1 to race.

This video from NASCAR explains some of the reasoning behind the move.

The issue with the old restart zone was that when drivers got to the ever-dangerous turn 1, the cars were far too close together. Drivers would leave track limits before the braking zone just so that they could make sure their nose was clean upon actually exiting the corner.

The thought behind the new restart zone is this: If some drivers (i.e. the back of the pack) still haven’t even made it through the corner yet when the leaders take the green, then the field itself will be more spread out than in years past.

Oh, was it really that bad before? Yes, it was.

There are a few things to think about, though, with pushing the restart zone as far back as they did. Will the cars be too spread out by the corner entry? Will the gap between those at the front of the pack and the back be too wide? All of that remains to be seen, but it’s something to watch for this weekend when all the cars take to the track at once.

Then there are stage breaks. Last season, stage breaks returned during road courses for the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race, and they’re here to stay at all road courses until otherwise announced. There were still stages, but no cautions for them at every road course last year except for the ROVAL.

That lack of stage break cautions, in tandem with being the fastest car on the track that day, led Michael McDowell to a win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last year. He recently gave his thoughts on the matter in a press conference.

In the video, McDowell speaks on the decision of going for stage wins vs. going for the race win, and how the former can compromise a driver’s chances at the latter. And he’s right, especially at road courses.

The new restart zone will get plenty of usage this year with stage break cautions returning to COTA. Keen-eyed viewers should keep their eyes peeled for road course ringers like Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger and Shane van Gisbergen to see whether or not they’re fine with hanging out around the middle or back of the pack until the laps dwindle down, or if they decide the stage points are worth more to their teams.

The earlier video window in reference to the new restart zone also mentions a new change at COTA, albeit one that doesn’t quite have to do with rules of the road.

New pavement has been laid down in several parts of the track that are pivotal to cranking out the best lap times, particularly in turns 9 through 11. Turn 11 leads toward a long back straight that will provide ample passing opportunities going into turn 12, which has also been repaved. Aside from that zone, turns 2 and 3 have had some repaving work done, along with turns 18 and 19.

The Cup race is scheduled for a 3:30 ET green flag and will be aired on FOX, the Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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Why does NA$CAR come up with incredibly bad decisions and never change them and come up with relatively good ideas and reverse them? More double file restarts and a better chance at more multi car wrecks for their ads.

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