NASCAR: Has the Introduction of Stage Racing Been a Success?

NASCAR has undergone many changes that started at the beginning of this current season in February. We have seen the introduction of Stage racing and the introduction of a new points system. These have been brought in an attempt to increase viewership, keep old fans enthralled, and coax in new fans to try to rebuild its fan-base after years of declining figures. ClickON Motorsports takes a look at whether the changes have been for better or for worse.

Stage racing has been in receipt of split opinions from fans. Some love the stage formats, and some hate it. However, as the season has gone on, opinions towards stage racing have definitely improved. Previously, there may has been very little to no action or position changes until the closing laps of the race. The new format means that drivers are hustling for points nearly all race long. This has created gripping and intense races to watch as drivers go at it for precious playoff and regular points, multiple times within a single race.

Stage racing was introduced to try to emphasize both strategy and aggressive racing on a continual level, rather than drivers and teams who previously would simply bide their time until the final laps before unleashing their wrath to gain spots. Undoubtedly, it has given drivers incentives to go, and to go hard. In terms of viewership, the new format meant that broadcasters were given a natural break at the end of stages, rather than breaking during green flag racing and potentially missing some jaw-dropping action – something that was terribly frustrating for viewers.

Stage racing also means that drivers have the opportunity to go down pit road at the end of each segment. For fans whose favorite drivers are perhaps not a front runner, it gives them hope that someone will make a mistake on pit road at the advantage of their favorite driver – or that the restart will see their driver shoot over the line and gain precious spots. It’s a feature that keeps fans in their seats – emphasizing the mantras that “anything can happen” and “it’s not over until it’s over.”

The downside to stage racing though, is that not all drivers and fans are on board with it and still shake their head in disgust whenever it’s brought up. Before the playoffs began, we watched the likes of Martin Truex Jr dominate multiple stages, earning him the lead position in terms of playoff and regular points. For those who aren’t a fan of Truex or who have become fed up of watching him dominate, this is definitely frustrating to endure week after week. Had the stages not been introduced, his dominance might not have manifested. On the other hand, a good driver is not only one who succeeds in mastering their car, but also their format.

That’s not all – the caution flags could induce lunacy. Some fans have complained that the yellow flag laps at the end of each segment are a total waste of laps, because these still count towards the total laps due to be run. No racing is involved. Fans are merely just watching the monotony of cars and drivers that are itching to gallop, traipsing behind a lap car instead.

Not only that, but the length of these end of stage cautions are arguably too long for those who are watching at home. It’s fine if you’re at the track and need to visit the bathrooms or the snack stands. It’s not so fine if you’re at home twiddling your thumbs. When races already last in excess of three hours, the extra seven minutes on average (compared to 2016) that these cautions add to a race, can rightly inspire some eye-rolls.

Finally, some fans protest that it’s just not real racing. To some, the stage formats are an artificial way of bunching the field up, messing with the pace, granting drivers more time to make adjustments and taking away the magic of “proper racing.”

So, what have these changes done – if anything – for the viewership of NASCAR? Well, that’s hard to gauge due to the many different ways that fans can watch these days. However, the changes could be improved if caution laps no longer counting to the total laps run, or the points system was revisited.

As for whether the addition of stage racing has been successful – opinion is still split. For some, it has really enhanced the Motorsport that we all adore. For others, it has simply messed with the equilibrium and ruined their beloved form of racing. Ultimately though, stage racing has definitely inspired plenty of debate and dialogues between officials, drivers and fans. Regardless of people’s opinions, having them talk about NASCAR can be seen as a success. Because if they’re talking about NASCAR, they’re paying attention and demonstrating their passion for the sport.