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Why Would NASCAR Go Back to Stage Cautions on Road Courses?

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On Tuesday, NASCAR made the decision to bring back stage cautions for the Charlotte Roval Race this October. Previously, NASCAR had not thrown a caution flag for the end of the stage for road course races this season, but that will change at least for this one race. The question many fans are asking is, why? Well, Elton Sawyer explained the decision on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.

Two major reasons were given with one being consistency with officiating the races and the second being to “Make the races better”. With that in mind, let’s analyze those reasons given to see whether or not this is a good decision or a bad decision.

Reason 1: Consistency with Officiating the Races

Now, this does make some sense, at least on paper. It is easier for fans to follow if every race has the same rules when it comes to stages and stage cautions. Those who may not be die-hard fans who watch every single lap of every single race may be confused when they turn on a road course race and see no stage cautions.

Now, changing the rules in the middle of the season is inconsistent in itself, so that makes things confusing as well. Those who are used to no stage cautions on road courses now see the rules changed in the middle of the season, which could be confusing to some as well.

However, by his own admission, Sawyer said that this was not the most important reason for why NASCAR did what they did. The biggest reason was for the case of improving the racing.

Reason 2: Improve the Racing Product

Here is the full comment from Sawyer regarding this reasoning for bringing back stage cautions.

If you look back at our five previous road course races, although they were competitive, there was some that felt like there was some things we could do differently, obviously going back to caution stage breaks, that would potentially make our races better. So, we had the option to pull that lever working closely with our broadcast partners, our folks at Speedway Motorsports in Charlotte, and our industry stakeholders.

Elton Sawyer

Now, did the lack of stage breaks make the races better or worse? That is a very debatable question. Road course races this year at COTA and the Chicago Street Race were highly praised by the fanbase while races like Sonoma and Watkins Glen were not highly praised by the fanbase.

What stage breaks do bring is two guaranteed restarts during the race, which are visually exciting parts of the race. Races at Sonoma, Indianapolis, and Watkins Glen had only four cautions combined, which meant the races got spread out. Are spread-out races with few cautions necessarily a bad thing?

That is again a very debatable question. Indianapolis was a race that the fanbase generally seemed to like. However, was Sonoma and Watkins Glen disliked because of the lack of stage cautions, or was it the racing product they saw?

A lot has been made about the lack of passing upfront towards the end at Watkins Glen. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr. discussed the stage cautions on road course following the Sonoma race on the “Dale Jr. Download”, and here is what he had to say regarding stage cautions.

If the product on the track were better, I wouldn’t care [about stage cautions], but the product on the track at the road course was so dull that taking out that stage caution…it just was a weird deal

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Stage cautions would have added some extra restarts to those races, which would have made for some closer racing on TV. That is why NASCAR is doing what they are doing, whether or not that is a good thing or a bad thing. Some would complain that it is manufactured entertainment, however.

It is also important to note the end of Sawyer’s comment, which talks about NASCAR discussing this with industry stakeholders, broadcast partners, and Speedway Motorsports Inc. At the end of the day, these are the decision-makers, and, if they would prefer something to be one way, they will probably get it one way or another. Fans may not react to that very well, however, and Sawyer made no mention of fans’ reactions in this quote either.

So, let’s take a look at all of these factors to see whether or not this is the right solution to road course racing going forward.

Is This the Best Solution?

Adding stage breaks back on road courses may produce more restarts, but does it solve the issue of the road course racing product? The Next-Gen car needs improvement on road courses, but the addition of stage breaks on road courses may feel like a makeshift band-aid for a bigger problem.

Even if there are two restarts added at the Charlotte Roval race, when the racing gets strung out during the long runs, the issues of the Next-Gen car on road courses will continue to crop up. Adding stage breaks may add a couple of exciting moments to the race, but it being the solution to all problems may be a bit of a stretch.

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