Stage racing has transformed the way an event unfolds. By awarding championship and playoff points during the race, it provides added incentive to run up front and creates a safety net if a competitor faces trouble later in the event.
The format has proven extremely valuable especially during the unpredictable restrictor plate races as a crash can eliminate a competitor on any lap. Now if they are collected in a wreck, having captured points through the earlier stages lessens the blow of an early exit.
Saturday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 again highlighted the value of stage points as drivers who performed well at the beginning of the event but didn’t finish at the front were compensated.
Other than a couple of bonus points, the 28 laps Blake Koch led before being involved in the Lap 50 crash wouldn’t have been rewarded under the previous format.
However, because of stage competition, Koch won the first stage, earned a playoff point and ten championship points despite a disappointing 38th-place finish.
Ben Kennedy had an impressive performance early at Daytona International Speedway before fading late. He finished second in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2, capturing an additional 11 points in the event.
While he finished 16th, he walked away with an amount of points reflecting a top-10 run. Despite not competing for the championship, his day attested to the impact of stage points.
Koch and Kennedy aren’t the only drivers who have benefited from early race success before experiencing trouble this year.
In the season opener at Daytona, Elliott Sadler won the first two stages before crashing and finishing 24th but still walked away with the third highest point total.
Sadler’s JR Motorsports teammates experienced similar fortunes in the following races as William Byron finished seventh at Atlanta and earned the most driver points while Justin Allgaier collected the highest points total at Las Vegas but finished fourth.
Similar situations have played out in nearly every event so far in 2017, showcasing the importance of stage points.
Stage racing has made it possible for a driver other than the race winner to earn the most points. While first-place would ideally secure the largest point total, now a driver who performs well throughout the day is appropriately recognized.
Taking home the trophy remains the most appealing incentive to run well in NASCAR, but stage racing has made a driver’s overall performance matter more now than ever before.
The extra points won’t ultimately make up for missing out on the opportunity for victory but now defeat doesn’t sting as badly.
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