New race format to make debut at Dover this weekend


All the races at Dover International Speedway will be in stages.
(Special to The Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

DOVER — It appears as if NASCAR has sided with William Shakespeare that all the world, including Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races, is indeed a stage.

As NASCAR arrives at Dover International Speedway for this weekend’s tripleheader — highlighted by Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism — it will bring with it its new format of racing that breaks the races down into segments.

It is known as stage racing and it will make its debut in all three NASCAR events on the high banks of Dover’s one-mile concrete superspeedway this weekend.

NASCAR announced it would be changing to stage racing just about a month before February’s season-opening race in Daytona, Florida.

Mike Tatoian , president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, believes the move to stage racing is a natural fit as the edgy Monster Energy Drink has become the new title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier racing series this season.

“I think NASCAR has made some bold moves in the past and I think this was a bold one that has been embraced by fans, sponsors and the race teams,” Tatoian said. “All the stakeholders have had a positive reaction to this. I think there’s been that common thread of success. We’re looking forward to it here (in Dover).”

NASCAR races at Dover used to start with a green flag and run until the checkered flag was waved, some 400 miles later since 1997, when the races were shortened from 500 miles.

Of course, there were the unscheduled breaks for caution periods for crashes and debris on the track, but other than that, it was a 400-lap marathon.

That all changes this Sunday, as the AAA 400 will be run in three different stages. The first two stages will consist of 120 laps apiece, while the race to the checkered flag will be 160 laps long.

Caution flags will wave following the first two segments, allowing drivers a chance to pit and resetting the field.

Points will be awarded to the top 10 finishers at the end of each stage throughout the race, adding more incentive for drivers to race harder throughout the day.

The final stage of the race will be concluded just like races have traditionally been. Race points and purses will be paid out based on the final stage, and 40 points will be awarded to the race winner.

“(Stage racing) creates a lot more strategies on the track for drivers and crew chiefs,” Tatoian said. “Under the new format, every point matters and every stage matters. That makes every lap matter.

“What really resonates with me about the stage racing is that it creates not one checkered flag, but creates three checkered flags throughout the race.”

Brad Keselowski, who won the fall race at Dover in his 2012 Cup Series championship season, thinks the changes make perfect sense in today’s professional sporting landscape.

Keselowski helped mold the new race format.

“To me, you look at NASCAR and you look at the way our races were formatted back in the (19)40s and ’50s, it was formatted around endurance, long races, trying to make sure you were there until the end,” he said, “but today’s technology, the teams are just so smart, and if we created motorsports from scratch today, this is exactly how we would have done it, so it’s is something I’m very proud of.”

Driver Denny Hamlin knows the new format will be confusing to some fans at first, but he said not to worry.

“I think that there are a lot of different things within this that you don’t necessarily need to know how a watch works, you just need to know what time it is,” Hamlin said. “I think you’re going to see better racing on the racetrack, and that’s all that matters.”

Jeff Burton, a former driver who is now a television commentator, believes the changes have come with the race fans at heart.

“There’s a reason that playoffs are fun to watch, because there’s a ramification for not doing well and there’s a reward for excellence,” Burton said. “Any time you can put these athletes in that position to excel, it’s more fun for us, the fans to watch.”

So while there might be some fans that still believe that stages should be reserved for musical acts, plays and even long-range rockets, Tatoian hopes they will wait and watch before forming an opinion about NASCAR’s brave new world.

He said Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race will consist of a pair of 45-lap stages followed by a 110-lap final stage while Saturday’s Xfinity Series race will feature two 60-lap stages followed by an 80-lap final stage.

“It allows fans to consume the race in bite-sized nuggets,” Tatoian said. “This format was designed with the fan in mind. The breaks will allow fans to communicate with each other following the stages and we’re looking forward to it.”

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