Fourth stage addition makes Coca-Cola 600 most important race of season

NASCAR announced on Monday it would add a fourth stage to the Charlotte race, marking the first time a race will award eight playoff points in a single race

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota does a celebratory burnout after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

CHARLOTTE — NASCAR threw another wrench in the 2017 season and the brand new stage system, adding a fourth stage to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.Given that the event is the lone 600 mile race of the season, NASCAR added the fourth stage and allowed a break for every 100 laps. The initial schedule released in February noted that the Coca-Cola 600 would be broken up at laps 115 and 230, with the final stage concluding on the 400th lap.Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, said the sport made an effort to offer more breaks in the longest race of the season that typically spans more than four hours.”The stage racing format is delivering more dramatic moments over an entire race, fueling tremendous racing action this season,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “With a fourth stage added to the Coca-Cola 600, the historic event will have another layer of strategy for teams, and even more excitement within the race for fans.”So what does this all mean for the drivers? Well, it offers another chance to add stage points and one more playoff point — which are crucial for the postseason — up for grabs.Playoff points are only used during the final 10 races of the season, and are the only points that carry over in the current system. By winning a segment, drivers earn a single playoff point. If the driver takes the checkered flag at the end of the 600 miles, they’ll take home an additional five playoff points.Given that the 600 is one of the most important races every season on the NASCAR schedule, CMS President Marcus Smith believes the update is perfect for the Charlotte race.”For 58 years, the Coca-Cola 600 has been a crown jewel on the NASCAR circuit because it presents unique challenges that don’t exist in any other race,” Smith said. “The distance is greater. The test of endurance is greater. The challenge of adjusting to the track surface from hot to cool puts more pressure on crew chiefs and pit crews. It’s only fitting that teams have an opportunity to be rewarded for the extra effort required to win at the 600. An additional stage win and that extra playoff point in May could be critical for playoff success in the fall.”Fans have questioned the stage racing format all season long, complaining about the scheduled breaks in the race. However, even with the added cautions at this point in the season than in 2016 — 98 compared to 80 — they have lasted an average of 5.5 laps compared to 5.7 last year.After Martin Truex Jr. led for 392 of 400 laps — or 588 of 600 miles — last season in the 600, it will be much tougher with four guaranteed restarts already implemented in the race. Tack on the opportunity to earn points at the end of every stage and NASCAR fans should expect plenty of action on the track during every 100 laps.