Perhaps you remember the start of the 2017 season, when NASCAR furthered its transition into a ball sport by breaking races into three stages. Three months in, NASCAR’s already altering that. The Coke 600 will be a full four quarters, which is another example of NASCAR changing rules just because it wants to.
At the beginning of the year, NASCAR slated the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to have stage breaks—referred to as “intermissions” in the sanctioning body’s Monday announcement—at lap 115 and lap 230 during the race. But rather than three stages, the longest race of the NASCAR season will now have four. The first will end at lap 100, the second at lap 200, the third at lap 300, and the fourth will end the race at lap 400.
The original announcement that NASCAR would break races into stages marked a sport-altering decision, similar to if football removed quarters and halftime to make teams play the full game time without a break—earth shattering, right? Right. It came after NASCAR decided to change its procedures for races that go over the scheduled distance to make them more ball-sport like, renaming and reworking the old “green-white-checkered finish” to be “overtime” in 2016.
Stages are simple, if you don’t feel like learning what they actually mean. The top-10 finishers in each of the three stages get championship points, and the stage winners get “playoff”—ball-sports terminology, again—points for the postseason title races that were referred to as the Chase for more than 10 years.
The stages end at different laps depending on the races, and the last one is typically the longest. The awarded stage points are complicated and confusing, so it’s easier to just watch at the surface level and realize that, yes, the cars are stopping for another mandated caution.
If you’re not asleep yet, please do not let us know.
But just two months into its audience trying to swallow those huge changes, NASCAR changed the rules on the fly—again. The extra stage means the Coke 600 will be worth more points than any other race (that is bad!), and the stage lengths also divert from the “last stage is the longest” mentality that came with the new rules. These are, mathematically, quarters... in a car race.
This will probably end up being no big deal in regards to the race itself, but in the big scheme of things, it’s bad. You don’t blow a whistle in the middle of a basketball game and tell everyone free throws are now worth 10 points apiece, just like you don’t change the fundamental rules in the middle of the season.
But NASCAR isn’t new to doing that. In 2013, before expanding the “playoffs” to 16 drivers, NASCAR extended its Chase field from 12 to 13 drivers. After handing out penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing drivers in the last race before the Chase, NASCAR decided that “events that were outside” of Gordon’s control put him at a “disadvantage” in qualifying for the Chase. So, they threw him on in there.
Not only is NASCAR making major rules swings almost every offseason these days, the sanctioning body has yet again changed the rules in the middle of the season. This stuff has to be figured out beforehand, especially with the NASCAR rules always in limbo anyway.
But it’s already been decided, even if at the wrong time. The Coca-Cola 600 will have a full four quarters—or, as close to quarters as a racing series can get—with each being 150 long, long Charlotte Motor Speedway miles.
Don’t forget the T-shirt toss at halftime.