NASCAR announced Monday that this year’s Coca-Cola 600 — the longest race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — will be run with one additional stage.
The annual 600-mile race, scheduled May 28 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will feature four stages. Breaks are scheduled at Lap 100, Lap 200 and Lap 300, with the final stage set to end at the full 400-lap distance. The previous format for this year’s 600 — announced in February along with stage lengths for all other 2017 national series events — called for intermissions at Lap 115 and 230.
Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, said the decision was the result of a collaborative effort to offer more breaks in an endurance event that typically spans more than four hours as it progresses from early evening to nightfall.
“You look at the way Charlotte was laid out and the length of the race, it was just sort of a natural to add another one to break it up a little further and make a few more moments,” Miller told NASCAR.com. “When you make stages in the race, there’s a lot of things that go into the decisions about how they lay out. One of the primary concerns is fuel mileage and how far they can go on fuel. We don’t want to end up with a stage break right on top of what would be a fuel window where it could get a little messy with that situation. The natural places for the 600 was four 100-lap segments.”
All other elements of stage racing procedures are to remain the same for the Coca-Cola 600, with regular-season points awarded to each stage’s top 10 finishers and a bonus playoff point for stage winners. FOX Sports’ broadcasting team will also receive the benefit of an additional break in the action for commercials and in-race interviews.
“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. 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,” said Marcus Smith, President and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. “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.”
Miller indicated the stage formats for the remaining races on the Monster Energy Series schedule this year were likely to stay the same, but that competition officials would make a customary review of any potential enhancements ahead of next season.
“The stage racing format has pretty much played out like we had hoped, has created some moments and has gained acceptance, but the 600 does present a unique opportunity over the other races,” Miller said. “We’re always looking, but I don’t see anything else on the horizon for the remainder this year. But we’ll certainly kind of re-evaluate as we wind down the year and see if there’s adjustments that would make sense for ’18.”
Miller acknowledged some of the early apprehension about the new race format, but said that nearly a third of the way through the first season that early impressions have grown more and more favorable.
“There was a lot of skepticism with the fan base starting out, and I think a large part of that is just change. Everybody’s always skeptical of change, so I think that was the sentiment,” Miller said. “I think the competitors kind of jumped on the concept early on. Lately as we’ve gone on, I think we’ve gotten just overwhelming response back that people like what they’re seeing, so we’re really happy about that.”