Risk, reward coming to NASCAR

Commentary

The countdown to the Daytona 500 continues, with drivers adjusting and reacting to some major announcements and significant changes coming to NASCAR’s top series in 2017, designed to bring new excitement, heightened interest and an expanding fan base to stock car racing’s premier series.

First, the name of that series has changed with the end of the Nextel contract. The new name will be Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The energy drink, popular among millennials, has an extreme-excitement and ultra-hip vibe, having branded itself as a sponsor of sports from motocross to snowmobiles to UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship.) Stock car racing is likely banking on a “monstrous” impact, exposing a new generation, and demographic of consumers to their sport.

And when those new fans turn out or tune in, they’ll experience another evolution of the point system, designed to add more excitement and interest throughout every race — throughout the entire season.

The incentive-based system will break each race into three stages, with three checkered flags. Drivers in the top 10 of each stage will receive bonus points. After the first two stages, a caution period will provide a break in the action, giving teams a chance to re-calibrate aspects of their set-up.

Then the green flag flies again, with the third stage deciding the race winner and points for each place. Winners earn an additional five bonus point and a spot in the Championship Chase. This stage/points format replaces points awarded for leading laps or most laps led.

Making it even more interesting, the bonus points earned throughout the season will carry over into the Chase, along with points for the regular-season champion and top 10. So regular-season success weighs even more heavily in the playoff bracket. Bonus points earned in the playoff rounds also carry over, except for the final race in Miami. The final four will start at the same spot.

Winning is still the ultimate goal — and comes with the biggest prizes, but the stages and bonus points literally make every lap count, and give every driver more opportunities to overcome setbacks and capitalize on good fortune.

The format will also make those middle-of-the-race laps more exciting for fans to watch, with the goal of improving viewership as well as advertising value.

Former Cup champion, Brad Keselowski, speaking during NASCAR’s news conference announcing the changes, said the new format all comes down to risk and reward.

“Risk makes for the best racing,” he said, “And giving guys more reasons to take those risks, I think you’ll see drivers really happy about those incentives for every lap.”

NASCAR seems to change its rules more than any other sport, and to its credit, takes its competitors’ input into consideration.

More changes are likely in coming seasons, but this year should be well worth watching, beginning with Daytona’s Speedweeks on Feb. 18.

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.

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