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Everything you need to know about NASCAR stage breaks

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I fully asserted that the NASCAR Cup Series is currently one of the few Motorsport Series does everything well. The races are competitive Next generation cars are well-designed pieces of machinery, and the series aims to expand its reach Horizons and audience. There’s just one part that seems to baffle people when I implore them to tune into race: What the hell are?”stages“How do they work and how are their lengths determined?”

To find out, we spoke to NASCAR's Scott Miller. Miller was the former Senior Vice President of Competition and has now taken on the role of Competition Strategist – and that means he has spent a lot of time developing and refining the stage race concept. If anyone could answer my questions, it would be him.

Elizabeth Blackstock: Would you mind first talking about how the concept of stages came about and how NASCAR currently defines them:

Scott Miller: The concept of stages emerged in 2017 as an industry-wide collaboration with representatives from our broadcast partners, NASCAR, the teams and drivers. We had the idea of ​​creating more points-scoring “moments” during the race. Instead of just the moment of the checkered flag at the end of the race, we could experience multiple meaningful moments [throughout a race] that impacted the entire season.

It also has this secondary benefit for broadcasters. We listen to our fans and a big complaint has been that TV coverage too often deviates from live coverage. At the end of the stage they could take some breaks and we would have to say goodbye to the live action to go to commercials less often.

EB: If you were explaining how stages work to a brand new fan, what would you tell them?

SM: If someone asked me who knows nothing about what we do, I would say that our races are divided into three stages. And at the end of the first and second stages, the leading rider receives a playoff point for the stage win, and all top 10 riders receive season points. The third stage ends with the checkered flag at the end of the race.

[Note: In some of NASCAR’s longer races, like the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, races are broken up into four stages. In that instance, the leading driver of the first three stages wins a playoff point, while the top 10 receive regular-season points. The fourth stage concludes the race.]

EB: One of the big things I've been wondering lately is how stage lengths are determined. I have seen [NASCAR] I was with my husband over the weekend and I realized that I knew the stage lengths had changed, but I also realized that I didn't know why that change had come about.

SM: There is a lot of thought going into it. Generally on 1.5 mile courses we ensure that each stage is long enough for teams to complete [the full distance] on fuel. At some point in this phase, a pit stop must be made before the actual stage can come to an end.

The thought process there is to create more strategy options. For example, you could just run two tires and try to get more stage points, but that could put you in jeopardy for the next stage. The fuel economy factor creates all of these different dynamics.

You'll also notice that when the next-gen car was released, we had several races where the stage lengths were changed. The fuel cell capacity of the next-gen car was different than the previous car, so we had to make some optimizations there.

EB: How early do you decide the stage lengths? Do you decide on this when the calendar is drawn up or does it occur more frequently as the season progresses?

SM: The way we determine stage lengths is basically set out in the rules and we try to keep them constant before and during a season. We try not to change them unless, for example, we need to change the race length like we did in Chicago, or we find that the stage length doesn't work for some reason. For example, if the stages in Las Vegas didn't work for the spring race, we would change them to make sure we do the right thing in the fall.

EB: What about the stages that work so well for the drivers, crew chiefs and fans?

SM: [Drivers and crew chiefs] like the points and the fact that those points are on the line. Not every stage ends with a super exciting finish, but I would say that the vast majority of stages get really intense towards the end when it comes to the points. For the fans, I think these moments make the race more exciting.

Teams and drivers also enjoy earning stage points because it impacts their ability to reach the playoffs and their playoff placement. These stages have an impact throughout the season.