The NASCAR community has been rocked by the new race format changes announced last week. Here, we highlight four smaller changes you might have missed.
It’s been a controversial week for NASCAR. Last Monday, Brian France unveiled some of the most radical format changes in the sport’s history. For the first time in NASCAR’s history, each race will be split into three stages, with the top 10 drivers at the end of the stage receiving bonus points.
Bonus points from the regular season will also carry over into the playoffs, setting up an interesting, if confusing, race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup. in the midst of all the confusion, many fans missed some of the smaller changes NASCAR introduced. Here, we take a look at five of them.
Feb 18, 2016; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (18), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) during the Cam-Am Duels at Daytona race two at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Points for the Can-Am Duels
Before NASCAR’s modern era, the Daytona 500 wasn’t the only points-paying race of Speedweeks. The Gatorade Duels, the legendary qualifying races for NASCAR’s premier event, were points-paying races until 1972, when they were dropped from the Winston Cup circuit. Winning the Duels had an added incentive for drivers in the early days of NASCAR, as the races offered a chance to jump to an early lead in the championship standings.
With NASCAR’s new segment format came the return of championship implications for the duels. The renamed Can-Am Duels will count as segments for scoring purposes, with the winner receiving 10 points, 2nd place receiving 9, and so on until 10th place receives one bonus point. However, unlike in NASCAR’s early days, a win in the Duels won’t count as a win in the record books. The winners of the 125-mile races will start 3rd and 4th in the 500, but won’t receive playoff bonus points or a guaranteed spot in the Chase. However, the added points incentive of the duels will lead to more exciting racing. Ironically, as NASCAR moves to the future, each season will kick off with a small throwback to the past.
May 6, 2016; Kansas City, KS, USA; NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Matt Crafton (88) leads William Byron (9) during the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Death of the Caution Clock
With the introduction of the new segment format came the death of one of NASCAR’s most hated features–the caution clock. Although the caution clock was only implemented for one year, and only in the Camping World Truck Series, most fans hated the change. The clock, which caused a competition caution to fly 20 minutes into a green flag run, angered many who saw the move as a way to create artificial excitement. Unlike the segment format, the caution clock essentially eliminated fuel mileage races, and without a points bonus at each caution, encouraged drivers to back off right before the flag flew.
Fans who hated the artificial stoppages created by the caution clock probably won’t be pleased by the introduction of race segments. However, the death of the caution clock is a blessing for NASCAR. While there is plenty of controversy surrounding the segment format, almost no one agreed that the caution clock was a good idea.
Nov 20, 2016; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr pits to repair damage after crashing during the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
NASCAR Kills the Crash Cart
NASCAR also made some changes to help smaller teams. The sanctioning body eliminated crash carts, teams’ supplies of body panels which used to replace badly damaged fenders, hoods, bumpers, and other body parts. Now come race day, teams won’t be able to make extensive repairs to cars damaged in wrecks. The rules change, combined with a new clock which limits how much time teams can spend in the garage, is designed to prevent cars coming back out on the track well off the pace. It will also help smaller teams cut costs, eliminating a costly expense which only major organizations could reliably afford.
Before, especially at large superspeedways with multi-car wrecks, cars would come back onto the track 20 or more laps down, running well off the pace to log laps and pick up points. The rules changes will now send help these cars to the hauler instead of the track. In addition to the elimination of the crash carts, NASCAR made positions 36-40 worth just one point, to prevent drivers from clogging the track just to pick up a few points. While this change will make racing safer for the drivers still competing for the win, it does have its downsides. With the rules changes, we won’t see moments such as Richard Petty returning to the track for his final race happen ever again.
Nov 20, 2016; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson during the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Homestead Remains a Showdown
An interesting sidebar to the rules is that the segment and bonus points don’t apply to the last race of the season. The bonus points drivers receive for the playoffs don’t carry over to the Final Four, and those drivers don’t receive segment bonus points either. NASCAR in effect, throws out all the new rules being implemented this year for the season’s final race. All that matters for the final-four drivers is who takes the checkered flag first.
Keeping Homestead as a showdown keeps alive what NASCAR wanted the new playoff format to be and that is a situation where four drivers have a chance to win a title. When all of the battling in the playoffs through the first nine races is over, there will still be four drivers with an equal chance of winning a championship in 2017.
One of the oldest changes made to the 2017 NASCAR season (because it seems like it was announced forever ago given the hoopla of the new format) is the fact that drivers will be starting every race this season on old tires.
When a driver finishes qualifying, whatever tires are on their car will be the same tires that they start the race with later in the weekend. This will put much more of an emphasis on what drivers do during qualifying and how many runs they take in an effort to better their qualifying position.
This rule will also change the way in which races begin. Now we will see certain driver charge forward while others fade fast in the opening laps of events depending on their tire situation. This rule change could have a huge impact on the season when coupled with the race segments.