Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Have Stage Breaks & Points Run Their Course?

The NASCAR Cup Series race this past weekend at Circuit of The Americas wasn’t quite what we remembered from the first race here — or the NASCAR Xfinity Series race the day before — and definitely not the week prior at Bristol Motor Speedway. With no cautions during the race other than the stage breaks, the strategy was pretty much predetermined with fuel outlasting tires for the most part.

On Tuesday (March 26), Richard Petty posted a video on Instagram with cousin and crew chief Dale Inman, who feels they should get rid of stage breaks and points all together.

So we got to thinking, should we heed the decree of The King? Is it time to put the brakes on breaks and stage points all together? This week Wyatt Watson and Joy Tomlinson break it down in 2-Headed Monster.

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Stage Breaks Have Got to Go

Since the inception of stage breaks in 2017, I have despised throwing a ‘fun’ caution to build up entertainment for a race, and I’m glad The King agrees that the practice stages and stage points should be eliminated altogether.

However, I’m just as opposed to throwing the once reviled ‘phantom caution’ as I am awarding stage points in the middle of races. Stage points are a unique way to reward drivers for their performance during the middle of the race much like awarding bonus points for leading a lap or leading the most laps previously. I wouldn’t mind if NASCAR changes back to a more traditional points format of rewarding points just at the end, but I would prefer to keep stage points as they are and just eliminate the playoffs entirely.

The biggest issue with stage cautions is that it interrupts the natural flow of the race in order to just build up artificial drama and entertainment for each and every race. Although last year’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race had only one caution for incident, the greatest part about it was seeing the likes of Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez amongst others play strategy and made every green flag cycle important for the overall race.

As we saw at last year’s race at Circuit of the Americas, chaos can still take place without the implementation of stage cautions. Last year’s race quadrupled the amount of cautions we saw last Sunday (March 24), and each of those cautions were due to either reasonable debris or for incident.

Although different restart procedures were used this year compared to last year. NASCAR implemented a new restart zone that allowed the first few rows to pull away and spread the field out more, which allowed the cars to carry more speed into the chaotic first corner.

Imagine watching William Byron and Christopher Bell battle with their strategies without a caution to pause the action. I would appreciate watching the battle both on track and on pit road without an unnecessary pause in the action.

It disheartened me to see NASCAR go back to throwing stage cautions last season at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, after just one not-so-great race at Watkins Glen International. The cars’ inability to pass thanks to the lack of horsepower and the aero effects of the Next Gen car are more to blame rather than the cadence of race breaks.

Stage cautions should have never returned for road courses just because of that race.

The biggest reservation on stage cautions is that other forms of motorsports don’t need to have stage cautions to attract an audience or make the race entertaining. The NTT IndyCar Series, Formula 1, Formula E, World Endurance Championship, IMSA and others don’t have stage cautions in their racing series and put on entertaining products to an effective degree.

The only time NASCAR should display a competition caution is for drivers to make adjustments following a significant change to the track, such as when rain washes all the rubber from the weekend away. The other would be if there is perpetual unsafe conditions during the race that needs a caution to help monitor and control the situation. NASCAR took this step during the 2008 Brickyard 400 when the tire fall off and the speeds of the cars made it too dangerous to run the race at a normal pace.

Suffice it to say, unnecessary yellows degrade the purity of the on-track product, and it is my hope that NASCAR will make a change for the better and stop interrupting the natural flow of the race as Richard Petty and Dale Inman suggested.

Hopefully that day comes sooner rather than later. – Wyatt Watson

Give Me a Break — Stages Set the Tone for the Race

With all due respect to The King, the breaks and points after stages should remain at every track on the NASCAR schedule — except for stage breaks at road courses.

I mean, this is the seventh season that stages and stage cautions have been used. Let’s face it, it’s likely not going away anytime soon, especially since last year when NASCAR added the breaks back for the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Womp Womp, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen International races only had one caution.

Who cares? Road courses should test drivers’ skills. At Circuit of the Americas on Sunday (March 24) there was just the cautions for the stage breaks, so what difference did they even make in the final stage? Isn’t this the same series that fans would start bemoaning because of how strung out the field would get during a long, uninterrupted green flag run?

However, when it comes to the ovals, the stage breaks are absolutely needed.

For one, the broadcasting partners could use an extra break, not just so they can show ads, but also so they can take a breather from what happened and break down what happened in each stage. Drivers also could use this yellow period to reset their minds from any frustrating issues that occurred during the stage, like a slow pit stop, or contact or damage from another car. It also provides a strategy reset at a known point if a team has an unscheduled pit stop or a harmless spin.

Also, at certain racetracks, the closing laps can be exciting for both viewers and drivers as they battle for every stage point that they can get. If the season doesn’t have 16 winners, those points will be important later on near the end of the regular season. They also could be important in the playoffs, as Martin Truex Jr. will tell you about his run last fall.

And who doesn’t love watching cars gear up on a restart?

This is especially true after stage two when the intensity ramps up and drivers vie for the best spot. Getting out in first place gives the car clean air and allows them to control the pace of the race. If we didn’t have the cautions for stages, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see these tight battles unless a caution for incident came out.

Now, this is just a theory, but I think the stage breaks might help NASCAR keep track of who earned a certain amount of stage points. If there’s a close fight for third place between three cars and they all have a photo finish at the line (like what happened at Atlanta Motor Speedway), officials can use the break to review the results so they can correctly award the points to each driver.

Finally, they just help make a boring race less boring. Martinsville Speedway in April 2022, in which Chase Elliott and William Byron led the majority of the laps, comes to mind.

Please, NASCAR, don’t get rid of the stage cautions — unless you remove them from the road course events. – Joy Tomlinson

About the author

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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11 Comments
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sb

Nascar scorned the ‘old way’ of determining a champion because of points meaning more than wins. Like, consistency in earning points for finishing well don’t count. but they are doing the exact same thing now, only there are now MORE points to try to keep track of. You have ‘stage points’ and ‘rave points’, and a convoluted formula for determining qualifying order. So their solution is to make even more complicated formula? Oy. Seem to have forgotten the KISS rule somewhere.

janice

when has nascar ever practiced the kiss rule?

sb

Good point. But the just made it even more confusing.

Joshua

Joy T doesn’t have a clue about what racing should be. Manufactured drama and race calling needing breakdowns? Did Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons and Ken Squier need a “breather” to break down the action on the track? Nope. The system should return to what made it unique-a full season champion, points for leading a lap and leading the most lap (maybe some bonus points for pole and practice speeds) and no stage cautions. Let the race unfold naturally. If it’s a sleeper, it’s because a team did their homework and earned the right to dominate.

Jeff H

Get rid of the stage breaks. They are just TV time outs and artificial drama builders. As for the points, sure give them out since it makes for a race within the race but why a stop for the reset? I would dump the “play off system” also. More TV drama. You score the most points, you win the big prize. EVERY other racing series does it this way.

DoninAjax

Emperor Brian discarded the Latford system because it was too “complicated” and hard to understand. It awarded POINTS after the event. NA$CAR has tweaked it numerous times to make it “simpler” for the fans to understand and now awards POINTS during AND after the events. I think they should award POINTS before the events for qualifying. The pole sitter gets ten points down to one point for tenth. Why should drivers not care where they start? Motivation is needed to make them qualify as fast as they are able to go. Isn’t it great that Brian and his sycophants have figured how POINTS don’t matter!

wildcatsfan2016

Agree. The Latford system worked – yeah once in a while you knew who the champion was before the end of the season but so what? Now it’s reset and reset and reset until the last race of the season. then everyone has to get out of the way of the crapshoot 4 so they can see who wins. It’s a stupid system.

Kevin in SoCal

NASCAR fans hate change. I am not a fan of change either, but I do like seeing them racing all throughout the race for stage points, rather than coasting until the last 20 laps or so. I am not a fan of the yellow at the end of stages, nor that the stage yellow laps count for the total laps run.

DoninAjax

Team strategy changes when planning for TV time outs and planning for no TV time outs. It still comes down to the last pit stop. Take away the choice to go for the TV time out POINTS. Is that racing or entertainment from double file restart chaos?

David Nance

You can’t coast when every lap led pays points and every lap you led counted toward a total that could get you even more points and took away laps from the competitors to get their bonus. 20 chances to earn bonuses today no matter what. BITD if you drove your tail off you could keep other drivers from earning bonus points.

Different day-different product-producing different results.

Remind me again when we were adding stands and building newer, bigger tracks and moving away from smaller capacity tracks?

A guy

Mandatory stage cautions and the winner take all single race champion have turned the sport I grew up loving into a farce. There is no strategy to a race with stage cautions.

Keep the points to reward performance through the whole race, but don’t stop the race.

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