For just the second time during the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, there will be no caution flag thrown at the end of each stage at Sonoma Raceway.
Before the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season began, NASCAR confirmed a relatively significant change to stage racing at road course races.
Since stage racing was introduced back in 2017, each race has been split up into three stages, with the only exception being the four-stage Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The caution flag comes out at the end of each stage, and the top 10 drivers in the stage are awarded points, from 10 points for the winner down to one point for the 10th place finisher. The winner is also awarded one playoff point.
From 2017 to 2022, this was the case not only for the oval races but for the road course races. While stage racing is still in effect for all events, the way it is utilized in road course racing changed quite significantly.
There is no longer a caution flag at the end of each stage during road or street course races. However, stage points are still awarded. This change was debuted at Circuit of the Americas back in late March, and it is set to remain in effect at Sonoma Raceway in this Sunday afternoon’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
This throws a significant curve ball at NASCAR teams in terms of strategy.
While you could argue that road course racing is back to what it was pre-2017, there is still the element of stage points — and playoff points — to consider. Some teams will surely still race for stage points, while others will opt to pit before the stage ends.
There is no longer a guarantee that anybody will be able to pit under caution. Drivers don’t lose a lap by pitting under green in a road course race like they do in most oval races, so avoiding the “danger zone” if an unplanned caution flag does fly could be crucial.
There are three more road course races and one street course race, the first ever Cup Series street course race, on this year’s schedule.
The Grant Park 220 is scheduled to take place at the new Chicago Street Course on Sunday, July 2; the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard is scheduled to take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Sunday, August 13; the Go Bowling at The Glen is scheduled to take place at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, August 20; and the Bank of America Roval 400 is scheduled to take place at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Sunday, October 8.
There will be no stage cautions in any of these four events either.
Tune in to Fox at 3:30 p.m. ET this Sunday for the live broadcast of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway. Begin a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss it!