NASCAR playoff decision raises eyebrows over consistency

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images) /

NASCAR’s sudden decision to ditch the idea of no stage breaks for the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval race comes across as inconsistent and counterintuitive.

Before the 2023 NASCAR season, the sanctioning body announced a significant change to stage racing. While road and street course races would still have three stages each and stage points (plus the stage-winning playoff points) would still be paid out to drivers, there would no longer be a planned stage break/caution at the end of the first two stages.

This change was implemented at Circuit of the Americas in March, and it was also utilized at Sonoma Raceway in June, the Chicago Street Course in July, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August, and Watkins Glen International in August.

Now NASCAR has reversed this rule change for the road course playoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Here is what NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer had to say about the matter on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week.

"“I’m sure the question from our fans and even our competitors is, why do that now? Well, one reason is that we want to make sure that throughout the playoffs, in the 10-race Cup Series playoffs, we were officiating across the board the same way. So, now we will be. All of our races will have caution stage breaks that includes the Roval.”"

On one hand, the change makes sense, as now all 10 playoff races, nine oval races and one road course race, utilize the same stage racing format.

But the fact that NASCAR wants to officiate “the same way” across the board makes this change a bit counterintuitive.

None of the five road and street course races this season have utilized stage breaks. So why is the Bank of America Roval 400 playoff road course race any different? Why is consistent officiating not important in the regular season? Isn’t this change somewhat inconsistent with what NASCAR has done all year?

Sawyer did add that NASCAR really didn’t like what they saw from several of the recent road course races in terms of on-track action and strategy and cited this as another reason for the change. The lack of stage breaks and cautions certainly contributed.

"“Probably the most important part of this decision-making was, if you look back at our five previous road course races, although they were competitive, there were some that felt like there were some things we could do differently – obviously going back to the caution stage breaks – that would make our races better.“So, we had the option to pull that lever working closely with our broadcast partners, our folks at Speedway Motorsports in Charlotte, and our industry stakeholders. It felt like the timing was right to do that as we head into the playoffs and finish out the first round, and head into the second round.”"

Let’s be honest. In defense of NASCAR and their decision-making process, anybody who managed to stay awake during some of those road course races, specifically those at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen, knows exactly what he means.

But using this to justify going back on a preseason rule change in the middle of the playoffs?

An attempt at consistency is one thing, but this opens up a whole other can of warms. If it wasn’t already clear that stage breaks and planned caution flags in races featuring both left and right turns serve no other purpose than manufacturing drama, it is now.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

NBC is set to broadcast the Bank of America Roval 400, the third and final race of the round of 12, live from the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 8. If you have not yet started a free trial of FuboTV, do so now!