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NASCAR’s 2017 format changes could boost excitement, but also seem gimmicky Featured

Feb 13, 2017 Hit: 338 Written by 
Kyle Larson tests at Phoenix International Raceway on Jan. 31. Larson and his competitors will have a whole new set of rules and formats waiting them when they return to race competition in 2017 starting next week at Daytona.
Kyle Larson tests at Phoenix International Raceway on Jan. 31. Larson and his competitors will have a whole new set of rules and formats waiting them when they return to race competition in 2017 starting next week at Daytona. Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Hello NASCAR fans, and welcome to the new world.

You’re about to enter a season where everything is different – from the title sponsor to a host of new rules. About the only thing not different is we’ll have the same cast of characters battling it out on track.

Most notably, the basic format of the races we watch is changing, with the goal of more competitive racing through the entire duration of the race.

Before I let you know my thoughts on all this, let’s break down what the format changes are:

Stages:
Each race in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks will have three stages in each race. Points will be awarded to those who finish in top 10 in first two segments, in addition to points handed out at end of third and final segment. Goal is for teams to run hard against each other all race, not hang back (like at plate tracks), if they want to get max points.

Points paid out for each segment:
In each race, driver who wins segment 1 or segment 2 gets 10 points, and on down to 1 points for 10th place. Winner of third segment (and the race) gets 40 points for leading final segment (for 60 total points available). There are no longer points given out for just leading one lap or for leading most laps.

More playoff points:
Winning a stage during a race = one bonus point in playoffs (if you make it); Each race win gets you five bonus points in playoffs; Also new is that points carry over to every round, other than final four, and aren’t just there at onset of the playoffs. Regular season champ will also get 15 playoff points.

My take:
I understand NASCAR is trying to attract more viewers and wants to shake things up to get new fans, and in theory these format changes will increase competition. But at the same time it seems gimmicky and convoluted. It does reward winning races and leading laps more, which is good, I’m just curious if the fans will notice much difference on track.

To speak to the topic of intensity: I’m pretty sure that most drivers in past years were not slacking off until the end of the race, unless we’re talking about plate racing. And there, I don’t blame them. Why risk a wreck early due to hard racing, which is especially true now with new damaged car rules?

We’ll also see impacts on how teams compete. For example, instead of using pit strategy to try to lead one lap, smaller teams unlikely to win a race may gamble on pit or tire strategy to get extra points in early segments by finishing up in the top 10 in those parts of the race.

These format changes may end up producing some of the best racing we’ve ever seen, as Brad Keselowski and others have suggested upon their announcement. And I hope these drivers are right in their assessment. My goal every season is for NASCAR races to provide quality racing that is exciting to watch – and in my book that means hard, side-by-side racing for position throughout the field.

But if not much changes in terms of fan enjoyment, it will have all been for show, and not for any significant gain to the fan or the sport.

The creation of known breaks in the races will be interesting, and help fans plan their bathroom or sandwich breaks while watching, and I’m curious to see how intense the battles are in the two early segments for the “win”.

I won’t join the chorus of “old school” fans who don’t ever want to see changes to the sport, as I don’t want to be that guy. I’m always open for a change, as long as it improves the sport in some way. I welcomed the Chase, for example, which helped to prevent the type of runaway championships I saw early in my time following the sport.

But if this turns out to be change for change’s sake, I’ll be the first to let NASCAR know they dropped the ball on this one.

Until we run the races, there’s no way to tell whether that’s the case, and I’m rooting for their instincts to be correct – as I don’t know any NASCAR fan who doesn’t want to see intense racing for the lead and through the field. If these changes increase that, I’m all for them.

Matt Myftiu can be reached on Twitter @MattMyftiu. AutoTechReviews is on Twitter @AutoTechReview. On Facebook, follow facebook.com/nascarbeyond and facebook.com/AutoTechReviews

Last modified on Monday, 13 February 2017 06:48
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Matt Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

Website: www.autotechreviews.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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