Sunday, Jan 29

First-Week Observations of the Stage Format

As I made the hour-and-a-half commute from one of my three jobs, where I still get to watch/listen to the races, I listened to the SiriusXM NASCAR post-race show. It seemed like the fans who called in to the block hosted by Brad Gillie and Claire B. Lang were still negative about the new ‘stage’ format that all three of NASCAR’s top series have implemented.

I understand their concerns. It’s hard for me to get used to change as well. For example, there have been some changes made in some of the equine sports I participate in. I’m not especially fond of them because I’m affected in some ways which I will not disclose here.

However, when the announcement was made about the new format during the NASCAR media tour, skepticism began to ooze out of many, but I felt none at all. I’ve been a NASCAR enthusiast for over 20 years. I probably didn’t start out at seven years old watching from flag to flag but in the past few years, even during the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600, I have not left the couch. Like many fans out there, I began to discover a lull in the middle of some of the races. It seemed like there was action worth watching at the beginning and the end of the race but not so much in the middle. Fans at home would probably watch the first few laps after the green flag, go do something else and then come back to the end. I acquired hope that the stage format would help this.

I wasn’t sure how these races were going to be divided lap wise but NASCAR has figured it out. Yesterday’s Daytona 500 consisted of two 60-lap and one 80-lap stage. Yes, there were many wrecks but even without the mess, I still felt like there was finally some action throughout the whole race.

In my opinion, it was also a positive for the drivers. Not only do race wins matter, stage wins matter as well. Just have a look at how all the races at Daytona turned out.

He may not have won the Nextera Energy Resources 250 (NCWTS), but Johnny Sauter won the first two stages of the 100-lap race and finished 15th. Not only did the No. 21 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet driver earn stage points, he also earned two points towards the playoffs.

Ryan Reed won the XFINITY Series season opener, the Powershares QQQ 300 and ended up fourth in Stage Two, which netted the No. 16 Lily Diabetes Ford driver points, stage and race.  Elliott Sadler won the first two stages of the 124-lap race but then got caught in an accident on lap 106. The driver of the No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet still earned 33 points.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heavy hitters Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick won the first two stages of the ‘500’ before they ran into adversity on the track. While they were not factors when the checkered flag dropped, the No. 18 M & M’s Toyota and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford drivers still earned 10 points each for their efforts. Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also finished in the top 10 of Stage One before being forced to the garage due to on-track incidents. Danica Patrick was having a good day before her day ended on lap 128. Although Kurt Busch ended the day in Victory Lane by leading only the final lap, the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford failed to make the top 10 of Stage one but finished third in Stage Two.

These are just a few examples of what this format is capable of. Was that boring middle part of the race gone? Maybe, but not because of yesterday’s wrecks. I thought it was kind of easier to follow because you knew when that stage caution was out and it was also nice to see some different names earn a top 10 in the first to stages. Those points matter now. Drivers can now wait to make a move during Stage Three or if they wrecked, they still earned those important points.

I had to see this format in motion before I could form an opinion about it and now that I have, even though it’s only the first week, I think it benefits both fans and drivers. Unfortunately, there are still those out there that say this is not the NASCAR they used to watch and grew up with. All I would like to say to these disgruntled fans is to keep an open mind, it’s only the first week. Let’s see what Atlanta brings us. There is still lots yet to be seen.

Katie Williams

Coming off the ranch, I didn’t have a motorsports background but my passion was and still is very strong. My first taste of NASCAR came at the age of seven while waiting for music videos to come on the old TNN network. As I grew up, I pursued other interest but eventually rediscovered cars going left when I found the SPEED channel during the 2011-2012 offseason.

I didn’t decide I wanted to pursue a career in NASCAR until the summer of 2012. I’m not a wrench head or strong enough for a pit crew so media was the next best thing. At the beginning of 2013, I started going to races and making connections within the sport. I also studied Motorsports Management at Sports Management Worldwide. Although I love what happens on the track, I’ve always been interested in what goes on behind the scenes and I’ve gotten to know many people throughout the radio, TV and digital media world.

While I’m a long time writer, 2015 was my first year actually covering the sport with . I also became a media correspondent for Raceline. I’ve been able to help the TV show gain recognition on social media. My current goal is to acquire more experience in covering NASCAR and move up the media ladder. Outside of motorsports, I have been an equine-sports statistician for 16 years.

I currently reside in Gillette, WY where I’m still involved with horses. I enjoy riding them, rodeo, swimming, traveling and meeting people.

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