NASCAR New Format Explained

The 2017 NASCAR season begins a new era in the sport. There are many new changes that can be quite confusing if you aren’t paying attention. I will attempt to break some of these changes down and help get you caught up if you’re just tuning in.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

The first major change involves the title sponsor of the premier series. Sprint announced at the end of the 2014 season that the company would not renew it’s title sponsorship after it’s contract expired in 2016. That left the sport looking for a major company to jump in and take over the role. Enter Monster Energy. Monster Energy is no stranger to high octane, high adrenaline, and extreme sports as it has sponsored drag racing, formula one racing, rally cross, motogp, rallycross, and super cross for years. It’s even been in NASCAR before as sponsor of Kurt Busch’s #41 Stewart-Haas Racing entry for a few years. The multi-year deal is believed to be worth an estimated $20 million.

Race Stages and Points Payouts

This is where things begin to get tricky. NASCAR has introduced a format to all three of it’s top series that rewards drivers points mid-race rather than only at the conclusion of the event. They are doing it by breaking each race up into 3 segments, officially referred to as stages. The length of each stage is different from track to track, and more information can be found here. The top-10 finishers in each of the first two stages will be award points based on their order, with the winner receiving 10 points and the 10th place finisher earning 1 point. Additionally the winners of the first two segments will each be credited with a playoff point. These points will essentially determine the seeding order of the 16 driver playoffs that begin in September.

At the end of the final segment, or the end of the race as we’ve always known it, will reward points to drivers, beginning with the winner who will earn 40 points, plus an additional 5 playoff points. The driver who finishes 2nd will receive 35 points, and every driver thereafter will earn one less point than the driver who finished ahead of him until there are 0 points left to issue. The regular season points standings will continue to work the way it always has. The driver with the most regular season points is the points leader, and the driver who is the points leader at the end of the regular season will earn an additional 15 playoff points, ensuring a high rank seeding going into the playoffs. I’ll get more detailed about the playoffs in a little bit.

Damage Rule and the 5-Minute Clock

In an effort to keep the track free of debris from damaged race cars, and to reduce some of the risk of injury from teams trying to hurry their repairs to get their cars back on track, NASCAR has introduced a 5-minute clock. This clock begins when the driver crosses the commitment line at the beginning of pit road, and stops when the driver reaches the line at the end of pit road. Speeding on pit road and missing the commitment line will reduce the driver’s clock by 15 seconds. Damage must be repaired within this 5 minute window and must be completed on pit road. If a driver enters the garage, his race is over.

Teams can not replace body panels, but they can hammer and tape any damage, but the car must be able to maintain the minimum speed during race conditions otherwise it will be disqualified from the race. When the damaged car reaches minimum speed, his 5 minute clock is reset and he can return to pit road to make additional repairs if necessary. If a team sends too many pit crew members over the wall to make repairs, the car will be disqualified from the race.

The Playoffs

Much of the same basics of the old Chase format remains. 16 drivers will make the playoffs based on wins and points. These 16 drivers will all begin the playoffs with 2000 total points with each of their playoff points carrying over. If a driver earned 30 playoff points during the regular season, he will start the playoffs with a total of 2030 points. Four drivers will be eliminated after the first three races of the playoffs, four more drivers will be eliminated after the next three, and four more after that, leaving the final four drivers to battle for the championship at the season finale in Homestead. The highest finishing driver of the remaining four contenders will be the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion.