NASCAR tweaks Cup stage lengths and lower series rules

by Justin Nguyen

It was a productive Tuesday at NASCAR’s Research & Development Center as officials announced modified stage lengths in the Cup Series, along with updates for the 2021-bound Next Gen car. For the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, NASCAR revealed the former will run the fourteen-turn road course layout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, while the former’s Triple Truck Challenge will have its entry deadline waived and a new schedule.

Since the introduction of stage racing in 2017, NASCAR races outside of the Coca-Cola 600 have featured three stages with the final being longer than the first two (which are identical in length). If weather were to force a race to be cut short, the event must reach the end of Stage #2 in order for it to be called official. In 2020, NASCAR will return to pre-stage rules for official races, now allowing events to be called at the halfway point even if it is not necessarily the conclusion of the second stage.

For 2020, Stage #3 for sixteen races have been adjusted to allow for more balance between the three segments. For example, the season-opening Daytona 500, which used to have 60-lap Stages #1 and 2 and an 80-lap Stage #3, will now be split into 65, 65, and 70. Texas Motor Speedway, whose final stage was 164 laps long compared to the 85 of the first two, now consists of two 105-lap segments followed by one of 124 laps.

Race/TrackStage Lengths (2020)Stage Laps (2020)Stage Lengths (2019)Stage Laps (2019)
Daytona 50065, 65, 7065, 130, 20060, 60, 8060, 120, 200
Atlanta105, 105, 115105, 210, 32585, 85, 15585, 170, 325
Darlington115, 115, 137115, 230, 367100, 100, 167100, 200, 367
Daytona 2 (Coke Zero Sugar 400)50, 50, 6050, 100, 16050, 50, 6050, 100, 160
Dover75, 162, 16375, 237, 400120, 120, 160100, 240, 400
New Hampshire75, 100, 11675, 185, 30175, 75, 15175, 150, 301
Phoenix75, 115, 11275, 190, 31275, 75, 16275, 150, 312
Pocono 125, 52, 5325, 77, 13050, 50, 6050, 100, 160
Pocono 230, 55, 5530, 85, 14050, 50, 6150, 100, 161
Richmond80, 155, 16580, 235, 400100, 100, 200100, 200, 400

The change was spurred to allow teams to only make one pit stop under green rather than two. NASCAR had also considered adding a fourth stage to divide the race into quarters like the 600 (which features a balance of 100 laps per stage).

“With the 550 (horsepower) engine package, the fuel mileage was different and the fuel windows got really tight before this change,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller stated. “All this does, really, is make it so in the final stage, there’s more than a couple laps option for the field to pit and it gives a little bit more leeway at the end on fuel should we go into overtime.”

In the vehicle topic, Cup Series director Jay Fabian announced the possibility of more cars being scrutinised in post-race inspection due to a parts freeze. To jump into the future, the Next Gen car, which recently conducted a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in preparation for début in 2021, will be the topic of discussion when NASCAR meets with manufacturers on Wednesday. Specifically, the talks will cover engines and possible featuring electrical components; the soonest the latter can be added is 2022, with new engines the following year.

Credit: Walt Kuhn

At the lower level, Xfinity Series head Wayne Auton revealed the series will compete on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s fourteen-turn road course. Scheduled for 4 July, it will be NASCAR’s first race on such a layout; Matt DiBenedetto tested a car on both the twelve- (featuring the oval turn one) and fourteen-turn (used by the IndyCar Series for the GMR Grand Prix) configurations last week.

“The 12 turn layout is way more fun and gutsy for drivers but with this layout the race will be won with a bump and run between 12 & 13,” sports car racer and former NASCAR driver Andy Lally posted on Twitter. “I’m not sayin that’s a bad thing.”

In the Trucks, with sweeping changes to the 2020 schedule, the Triple Truck Challenge will now take place at Richmond Raceway, Dover International Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Richmond has not hosted a Truck race since 2005. The Challenge, which was introduced in 2019, will also lift the entry list deadline, a caveat that forbade Greg Biffle from continuing to run the challenge after winning the first leg at Texas in his return to NASCAR.

“Glad @NASCAR changed the rules for #thetrip,” Biffle tweeted. “Can’t wait for the triple truck challenge this year !!!”

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