NASCAR announced Tuesday changes to the stage lengths at 16 Cup Series races for the 2020 season.
The adjustments primarily involve reducing the number of laps in the third stage to ensure enough fuel at the finish, adding more strategy at certain races and eliminating green-flag pit stops at others.
"Last year, we went to a 550 horsepower engine for superspeedway tracks," NASCAR spokesman Mike Forde said. (The original stages were based on a 450 horsepower engine.) "We adjusted the stages so it wouldn't become a fuel mileage race. We don't want cars to be running out of gas towards the end of the race."
The reasoning for the stage changes differs by track length. Essentially, NASCAR broke Cup Series races into three groups for the changes: superspeedways (i.e., Daytona and Talladega), intermediate tracks that run 500-mile races (Atlanta, Texas and Darlington, which are around 1.5 miles) and shorter tracks with courses that are a mile or less (Richmond, New Hampshire, Dover and Phoenix).
For races in Atlanta, Texas and Darlington, the final stage was shortened while the first and second stages were lengthened so drivers only need to do one green-flag pit stop per stage.
"For the longer races, the final stage was very long so drivers needed to stop twice to refuel, typically under green flag conditions," said Forde. "When that happens, it can create a lot of strung-out racing, which is not ideal for entertainment purposes or close competition."
For the shorter tracks, the hope is a longer second stage would add more team strategy. Teams wanted to add a green flag pit stop so crew chiefs could decide on things like tire changes.
Stage lengths have yet to be set this season for the races at Watkins Glen, Sonoma and the Charlotte Roval.
Prior to this season, races were considered "official" after Stage 2, meaning if weather conditions forced the race to stop before completion of the third stage, final results would revert back to who was leading at the end of the second stage. Beginning at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16, races will be official at either the halfway point or after Stage 2, whichever comes first. For Cup Series races, this means the halfway mark.
This is the first year NASCAR is tweaking the stages. The idea for the changes came about during an internal meeting between NASCAR personnel, teams and manufacturers after the end of last season.
"Drivers and teams definitely had input," Forde said. "I think we were feeling the way they did. We also wanted to add strategy to those mile tracks and we didn't want to tighten up that final stage (at the speedways). We were all on the same page on that."
A model that broke each race into four equal stages was pitched at the meeting, but it didn't take root because of how it would impact the current rankings and point system (top 10 drivers receive points after each stage). However, NASCAR said a four-stage model could be introduced in the future.
"Maybe next year with the NextGen car, once we see how the racing goes," Forde said. "But right now it's not something we really want to do and no one else had a big desire to do it either."
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