Patience is no longer a virtue in NASCAR.
Tweaks announced Monday to the racing format for the 2017 season in the Monster Energy Cup Series, the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series aim at “increasing the sense of urgency and emphasizing aggressive racing and strategy,” according to an official release from NASCAR.
“This (new) format puts a premium on every victory and every in-race position over the course of the season,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Each point can eventually result in winning or losing a championship.”
Among the changes, each national series race now will be divided into three stages, with the top-10 finishers in each of the first two stages earning championship points, which will be awarded using a descending 10-point scale.
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“As a driver, I’m happy to be rewarded for performing well throughout the event, not just for how I finished,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’ll tick you off if you’re in that car for enough races and you’re whupping everybody’s butt all day long and then you get beat by somebody who’s running 20th all day, just by circumstance, how the cautions fall late in the race.”
Championship points are used to set the field for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, which were formerly known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Race stages will vary in length, but the first two stages each week will be an equal number of laps followed by a longer thrd stage. The exact number of laps per stage will be determined on a race-to-race basis.
There will be a competitive caution at the end of each stage followed by several laps under caution, which will provide a natural break in the action.
“These stages are going to be ultra-important starting right off at Daytona,” said Clint Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan. “You have to accumulate points so you can establish yourself in the (playoffs) and battle for a championship.”
The stage winner will do an in-car interview with NASCAR’s broadcast partner for the race before the field makes a pit stop then heads back out under green.
According to a NASCAR spokesman, the changes are “a fan-driven thing” and should enhance the viewing experience both on TV and in the stands, creating natural breaks in the action like the end of a quarter or intermission in other major sports.
“It’s going to be very interesting to watch these crew chiefs try to figure out the strategies that will help their drivers obtain the most points for each stage, and it’s going to be fun to see how this evolves,” Earnhardt said.
Qualifying for the Monster Energy Cup Playoff won’t change.
The regular-season points champion and the next 15 qualifiers based on total race victories — with ties broken by championship points — will race for the title during the season’s final 10 races.
However, the championship points system also is being overhauled.
Race winners now will receive 40 championship points with second place through 35th place receiving points on a descending 35-to-2 scale.
The bottom five finishers each receive one point. Bonus points for leading a lap and leading the most laps have been eliminated.
While stage lengths will vary depending on the distance of a given race, the winner of each stage also receives a bonus playoff point.
“I’ve had some of those races where you lead 300‑some laps and you lose out in the last five laps, and those really sting, but the opportunity to win both stages and the race and score a perfect race is really big and means more than ever before as much as everything else does,” driver Brad Keselowski said.
The eventual race winner also receives a five-point playoff bonus per win and the race purse still will be determined by the final race results.
The top 10 in the final championship points standings will receive an additional playoff bonus on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
Once the playoff field is set after the season’s 26th race, those accumulated bonus points will be added to the reset point totals at the start of each of the first three playoff rounds.
Bonus points will not be used for the Championship 4 finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The highest-finisher among the four Championship qualifiers will be declared the Monster Energy Cup winner.