NASCAR unveils new race, playoff formats

On Monday, NASCAR announced new race and playoff formats that will be implemented for the 2017 season. The rules will affect how races are run and how the championship points are determined.

Races will be split into three segments known as “stages,” and at the end of each stage, a caution will be flown. The top-10 at the time of the stage’s end will be awarded points; the stage winner will be awarded 10 points and each following position will receive one fewer point. The stage winner also receives a point for the playoffs (formerly known as the Chase). When the caution is flown, cars will be allowed to pit, and the starting grid for the next stage will be determined by the race off pit road. At the end of the race, points will be given to all 40 cars through a modified form of the 2016 system: 40 points for the winner, 35 for 2nd and down to 2 for 35th-place, with drivers finishing 36th or worse receiving 1 point. he winner is also awarded five playoff points. Point bonuses for leading a lap and leading the most laps have been removed. In the event of rain, the second stage will determine the finishing order and points will be allocated based on that. NASCAR stated the stage format was created in hopes of limiting commercials on TV during green flag runs, with the majority of advertising occurring during the five-minute breaks between stages.

The Can-Am Duels at Daytona, two races to determine the field for the Daytona 500, will award points to the top-10 finishers; traditionally an exhibition race, the Duels had been points-paying races from 1959–1971. Unlike the other 26 regular season races, no playoff points will be awarded to Duel winners. At the end of the regular season at Richmond, a regular season champion is crowned, similar to the Presidents Trophy winners in the National Hockey League; playoff points will be awarded to the top-10 in the standings, with the leader receiving 15, 2nd receiving 10, 3rd receiving 8 and decreases by one with each position.

The elimination structure of the playoffs, in place since 2014, will remain the same as the 16-driver grid is reduced by four with each round, the points are reset with each round and drivers can advance with a win. However, points bonuses in the first 26 races of the season will carry over into the playoffs, while playoff race and stage wins will also do the same. At the season-ending race in Homestead, all points will be reset and the race will be run “straight-up,” meaning the standard format of being the best finisher of the four remaining drivers becomes the champion.

Driver reception to the rule changes has been positive. “When you see this on the race track, this is gonna be the best racing you see,” Brad Keselowski said, despite skepticism from fans and reporters about potential confusion.

“Since NASCAR started, there has always been change. The world changes and you have to change with it,” seven-time champion Richard Petty stated. “This new format just adapts to the current and next generation of fans. It’s something to help create more excitement during the races. You have to put on a good race, a good show where people want to watch at home and enjoy coming to the track. Having two additional winning moments is a good step in that direction to keep the drivers competitive and fans excited throughout the race and season.”

The format will apply to all three of NASCAR’s national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck Series). Additionally, the Truck Series’ Caution Clock, which was added in 2016, has been eliminated for the 2017 season. Other rumored changes include a podium celebration for the top-3 finishing drivers like in Formula One and IndyCar.

The first race of the 2017 NASCAR season under the new points format, the Can-Am Duels, will be held on February 23.

Featured image courtesy of LAT Photographic

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