Turn 2 Blog: Are stage points too much of a factor? & Who will advance?

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

Have stage points become too much of a factor in NASCAR racing?

Richard: I would argue the opposite. While I might not have agreed with the use of stage points initially, they have brought a whole new element of intrigue into the sport. That is especially true in the first two rounds of the NASCAR Playoffs as drivers and crew chiefs have to devise strategies of when to pit and not to pit in order to maximize points for that day.

We saw it play out on Sunday in the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as some teams would opt to stay out under cautions periods late in stages so they could score stage points while others opted not to chase those points but to give themselves good track position after the stage break. That stuff has to be gut wrenching for crew chiefs which makes it entertaining for fans.

The ending of that race, with Kyle Busch in contention for a win that would have turned the Playoff standings upside-down, was very compelling. I believe much of that drama was brought about by the fact that teams had to make tough decisions because of stage points.

I, for one, enjoyed the drama.

Michael: For teams near the cutline in an elimination race, stage points are huge and they do put a lot of focus on that. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as straight up points race under the old Chase format.

Wins still matter in the playoffs over points and stage points. That is a good thing. Some of the strategy during the Charlotte race was a little head scratching. For most teams, it worked out. Some of the drivers were an accident away from it not working out. Kyle Larson wasn’t necessarily racing for stage points. But the caution where Daniel Suarez spun going into the chicane nearly took Larson out. Anything can happen in these elimination races.

Are there enough road courses to justify having a driver who is a “road course ringer”?

Richard: With six road course races on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule and another six planned for next season, I would say the answer to that question is yes. It certainly worked for Kaulig Racing on Sunday with A.J. Allmendinger’s win in the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The current schedule makes me think that Marcos Ambrose just missed being in the right place at the right time by a few years.

Shane Van Gisbergen proved that road course ringers can pay benefits in the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing on the Chicago Street Course.

These races are very hard to win, especially for one of the teams not named Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, or Joe Gibbs Racing so why wouldn’t an organization do something a little out of the ordinary to give itself a better chance to win six times a year? It’s not all that different from a team who may have a guy like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who is very good on the big drafting tracks or someone who is a particularly good short track racer.

And more, winning a race at the right time on the schedule could punch a ticket into the NASCAR Playoffs, which is the goal of everyone in the sport.

I read after the Charlotte race that Allmendinger joined Dan Gurney in being the only drivers in NASCAR history to have their first three Cup wins come on a road course. The bottom line to that is that they actually have three wins. That’s more than many active drivers at the top level.

Kaulig has gotten benefitted from using A.J. Allmendinger

Michael: Most teams don’t put themselves into position to have an additional car to run for a ringer. The Trackhouse team is one of the exceptions and that paid off in a big way in Chicago.

I am surprised other teams did not try to sign Allmendinger once the Cup series went to 7 road course races back in 2021. That was seven legitimate chances for a win. I thought the Petty team would sign him before they signed Erik Jones. But it looks like that has worked out for both sides.

What four drivers do you see making it into the Championship 4?

Richard: Even though I picked him to be eliminated in the ‘Round of 12’ due to inconsistency throughout the season, and he wasn’t particularly impressive in the last three races, I now like how the schedule with events coming up at Las Vegas and Homested set up for Kyle Larson. and I would say the same about Tyler Reddick. I believe those two will advance to the Championship 4 because of how those two tracks suit their styles.

Also, Denny Hamlin and William Byron have seemingly been fast all season on every type of track. And more, both are previous winners at Martinsville so if they went into that deciding race in need of a win or a top-5, both have that capability.

So, Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin and William Byron are my picks to advance out of the ‘Round of 8’ and into the ‘Championship 4’.

We both pick William Byron to make the Championship 4

Michael: Larson runs really well at both Las Vegas and Homestead. If he has trouble in both races, he could be eliminated. But I don’t think that will happen.

My final 4 are Byron, Larson, Bell, and Hamlin. Truex hasn’t been running great in the playoffs and Buescher has tailed off since Bristol. I debated on Hamlin because that team manages to do some head scratching things at times. But I don’t see another driver that can outperform Hamlin for three races.

Please consider also reading:

Turn 2 Blog: Does Lucas Chase need Win-to-Advance? & Who have been the top regional drivers?

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