By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
For the past 57 years, Daytona International Speedway has relentlessly and unbiasedly chewed up and spit out thousands of racecars. A lot of times, the driver who dominated the race at this intimidating 2.5-mile track finds themselves in a sadly predictable late-race melee which nearly always happens in restrictor plate racing.
Until 2017, there was no real actual silver lining for those who led the majority of the event only to be wiped from the final running order. Enter NASCAR’s new Stage Racing Format. Regardless of how many people thought of the new format as a gimmick heading into the year, it has already saved the day for two drivers who found bad luck in the first two races of the format’s existence.
Johnny Sauter swept the first two stages of Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona. In all, Sauter led 52 of the 100 laps in the NextEra Energy Resources 200, but a last lap crash led to a disappointing 15th-place finish for Sauter. In year’s past, Sauter would have been relegated to say, “they knew we were here tonight,” and he would have left the speedway as the 13th-place driver in the point standings.
Thanks to the bonus points for winning the early race stages (10 for each stage), Sauter leaves Daytona second in the championship standings to race winner, Kaz Grala. Grala won the race, so yes he deserves to take home the most points, but due to his performance over the entirety of the race, Sauter didn’t go home empty handed. You have to love that.
It was the same story, different verse for Elliott Sadler in Saturday’s crash-filled NASCAR Xfinity Series Powershares QQQ 300.
Sadler led 40 of the 124 laps on Saturday, and he found himself in the front of the field at the end of both of the first two stages. Unfortunately Sadler suffered catastrophic damage in a crash with less than 20 laps remaining in the event. Sadler was declared out of the race when the five minute clock expired while his crew was making repairs to his No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro while on pit road.
As a result, Sadler was credited with a 24th-place finish.
Again in year’s past, justly or not, Sadler would have found himself 22nd in the championship standings after the smoke settled. However, thanks to this new system, which rewards being competitive all race long, Sadler sits third in the championship points, just 14 markers behind race winner Ryan Reed.
This new format, which has had its share of positive reviews and negative reviews, is finally giving us a chance to see what the drivers were talking about during it’s announcement. I believe this new points system — through two races — is the most fair system we have ever seen in the history of the sport, and it will eventually be looked at as a positive.
It just never felt right that theoretically someone could lead an entire race, and get spun out off the final turn and end up with with hardly any points for their efforts. This format addresses that issue, and it gives drivers incentive to mix it up for the lead all race long.
While many of the changes the sport has had over the past decade haven’t turned out well, I do like what I’ve seen so far for this new point system.