With the start of the 2017 regular season now only two weeks away, the drivers, teams, and fans have plenty to be excited (and potentially nervous) about. Many dramatic changes have been made to the sport, and chief among them is a completely re-imagined race system. In the new format, which will apply to the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series as well as the Cup, all races will be broken down into three stages. Each stage lasts about a third of the race, and ends with a checkered flag. At the end of the first two stages, the first ten cars are awarded championship points (10 points for first down to 1 point for 10th), while the final stage ends the race normally, giving 40 points to the winner, 35 to second place, down to single points for 36th through 40th. While the new changes admittedly add even more confusion to a system of points, bonus points, playoffs and rules that is already somewhat convoluted, it becomes clear quickly that while this is an ambitious change, it has undeniable genius in it.
NASCAR, perhaps more than most other motorsports, has a good history of prioritizing racing quality and fan-conscious practices. Exciting, dynamic races have been paramount to the massive success of the sport. Still, for many potential viewers, it’s hard to get excited about watching cars go around an oval for three hours while definitive results only come around at the very end. Now, however, events with season-long implications happen reliably, multiple times every race. We get more mad dashes for the line, more upsets as drivers and teams who might be otherwise uncompetitive use an aggressive strategy to score a stage win, and—let’s be honest— probably more crashes. The yellow flag after each stage also brings more strategy into play because cars will have more pit stop opportunities, and with points awarded more frequently, there’s less time on-track to recover from a bad pit stop.
Only time will really tell if NASCAR’s new direction will really work, but the new era stands to be massively beneficial for fans, teams, and the sport as a whole.