NASCAR is dramatically changing its format for the upcoming season, cutting every race into stages that reward points in hopes of making every lap matter.
The overhaul announced Monday assigns three stages to every race. The top 10 drivers at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 will be awarded points on a 10-through-1 scale and there will be a break in the racing after each segment. The third portion of the race will be for the overall victory, and although traditional point scoring will be applied for that stage, the win will be worth 40 points. The rest of the field will be scored on a 35 to 2 scale, and positions 36th to 40 will only receive 1 point.
All bonus points accumulated through the 26-race regular season can be used in the 10-race playoff, which will no longer be called "The Chase."
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"There are no off weeks, every race matters, not only that, every lap of every race matters," said Denny Hamlin, one of the many drivers who participated on the panel that created the new format.
NASCAR spent nearly seven months working with a wide range of industry stakeholders to come up with the changes. Heavily involved were the television networks, retired drivers Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton, current drivers from the driver council, and team and track executives. Monster Energy, which signed last month as the title sponsor for NASCAR's top series, was only informed of the shakeup in the last few weeks.
"If we created motorsports today, this is exactly how we would have done it," said 2012 champion Brad Keselowski.
NASCAR is energized by the changes, particularly the stages that will allow for a commercial break that doesn't occur during green-flag racing. Segment winners will be interviewed during the breaks, and NASCAR likes that it creates a pause that gives fans a chance to reset.
Race distances will not change under the format. Other changes:
— The winner of the first two stages of each race will receive one playoff point, and the race winner will receive five playoff points. Each playoff point will be added to the driver total at the start of the playoffs.
— All playoff points will carry through to the end of the third round of the playoffs. The four title contenders will race straight-up in the season finale for the title.
— The exhibition duels during Speedweeks at Daytona next month will now be worth 10 points to the two race winners.
The new format begins with the Feb. 26 season-opening Daytona 500.