NASCAR shortens final stage for several Cup races

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR has changed the length of stages for 16 Cup races this season, primarily shortening the final stage in those events.

The overall length of those races did not change, except for the Pocono doubleheader events. NASCAR also announced that with the stages changing, the end of Stage 2 will go beyond the halfway point of the race. NASCAR stated that a Cup race would be official at the halfway point should it have to end early, a change from last year.

NASCAR reveled the changes to reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Here are the changes:

At speedway races, the Daytona 500 stages will now be 65 laps/65/70. The final stage of last year’s Daytona 500 was 80 laps.

At Talladega, the stages will be 60/60/68 laps. The final stage for last year’s races there were 78 laps.

“With the 550 engine package, the fuel mileage was different and the fuel windows got really tight before this change,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “All this does is make it so in the final stage there is more than a couple of lap option for the whole field to pit and it gives a little bit more leeway at the end on fuel should we go into overtime. That’s why the speedway races got changed.”

At intermediate tracks:

Atlanta’s Cup race will feature stages that are 105/105/115 laps. Last year’s final stage at Atlanta was 155 laps.

The Cup races at Texas will have stages of 105/105/124. Last year’s final stage was 164 laps.

Darlington’s Cup race will have stages of 115/115/137. The final stage of last year’s Southern 500 was 167 laps.

“The way those races laid out before, (they) had an extremely long third stage with two green-flag stops necessary,” Miller said. “So what we did was we shortened the final stage. It now only has to have one green-flag stop. The center stage is longer, but we kind of collectively thought, having that last stage not be so long … would keep the field tighter and make for more exciting racing.”

At tracks 1 mile or less in length, the changes are:

Phoenix Raceway, site of the championship race, will now have stages of 75/115/122. The final stage at Phoenix last year was 162 laps.

New Hampshire’s Cup race will have stages of 75/110/116 laps. The final stage of last year’s race there was 151 laps.

Dover’s Cup races will have stages of 75/162/163 laps. The final stage of last year’s race was 160 laps.

Richmond’s Cup races will have stages of 80/155/165 laps. The final stage of last year’s race was 200 laps.

“Phoenix, New Hampshire, Dover and Richmond, the goal there was to create some stages that potentially gave us some more strategy options for the crew chiefs,” Miller said. “Typically, those races laid out to where there was no stop necessary in Stage 1 and Stage 2 and a green-flag stop necessary in Stage 3. These shifts in stage length put us to where … there is a need for a green-flag stop in the second and the third stage. Some more strategy options available there.”

New this year is the Pocono doubleheader on June 27-28. The Saturday race is 130 laps and will feature stages of 25/52/53 laps. The Sunday race is 140 laps and will feature stages of 30/55/55.

Miller said that stage lengths had yet to be set this season for the races at Watkins Glen, Sonoma and the Charlotte Roval.

“At the road courses, there’s only one green flag stop that is necessary and that is in the third stage,” Miller said. “We’re talking about reducing the fuel cell capacity and creating some stage lengths that again create a green-flag stop in Stage 2 and Stage 3. Still some work to do there on particulars on the fuel cell and make sure that everything works with the industry. I think we will probably get there.”

Miller also said that NASCAR explored the notion of four stages for every event — only the Coca-Cola 600 has four stages — but that was dropped.