Addition of fourth stage in Coca-Cola 600 is a no-brainer

When NASCAR announced that it was adding stages to its races for 2017, social media blew up and most of the reaction at first was negative.

Some called it a gimmick, others said it made NASCAR like the WWE, they would never, ever watch another race, blah, blah, blah.

Well, guess what?

Despite the skeptics and the haters, stage racing worked and it worked well, accomplishing two critical objectives: 1. Giving drivers an incentive to race hard in the first half of the race; and 2. Because of No. 1, making the show a lot more interesting for the fans who watch from the grandstands and on TV.

And it also brought strategy into play as teams had to figure out which was more important in any given race, piling up stage points or positioning themselves for the end of the race?

Now that fans have seen and gotten used to stage racing, the reception is generally much more favorable, which it should be: It’s added another level of entertainment to the racing and after all, shouldn’t the racing be entertaining?

I bring this up now because earlier today it was announced that the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will now have four stages of 100 laps each, instead of just three.

To me, the addition of a fourth stage for the Coca-Cola 600 is a no-brainer.

Let’s be blunt here: In its own way, the 600 is a novelty race. Yes, it’s a points-paying race, unlike the Monster Energy All-Star Race, but it’s a novelty race just the same. There’s no real reason it needs to be 600 miles long, other than to differentiate itself from the other races on the schedule.

Given that the race is unique, why not treat it like it’s unique?

We’ve already seen that stage racing works. So why not add another stage to NASCAR’s longest race? It just makes sense. It will make the race more entertaining, just like it has at every track from Daytona to Kansas so far.

Some will doubtless make the argument that NASCAR shouldn’t change the rules in the middle of the season.

Well, NASCAR already changes the rules in midseason.

In recent years, we’ve seen them try different aero packages in points races during the season.

We get rule book changes on a near-weekly basis and have for years. This is nothing new.

Others will complain that this race no offers the potential to pay more points than any other race in NASCAR, which is true. The addition of an extra stage means there are now an addition 10 regular-season points and one playoff point up for grabs.

In the big picture, that’s not going to mean much in the standings.

We’re 11 races into the 26-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and the gap from first place Kyle Larson (475 points) to 10th-place Clint Bowyer (317) is 138 points. And as more races get run, that gap likely will only widen.

I would be well and truly shocked if any driver did or didn’t make it into the playoffs because there are 10 more points available in this race.

Let’s do the math: There are 26 regular-season Cup races. If they all paid points for the first two stages in each race, drivers would have the change to earn stage points 52 times (26 races x 2 stages). Now, they can earn stage points 53 times (25 races x 2 stages + 1 race x 3 stages).

Do you really think that’s going to change who gets in to the playoffs or who will advance?

No, it almost certainly won’t.

So, let’s do this and make NASCAR’s longest night of racing become a little more interesting.