NASCAR Media Tour Day 1: No news is good news

For the first time in a very long time — longer than I’ve been around, anyway — NASCAR will not hold a “State of the Sport” news conference during this year’s NASCAR Media Tour.

In the past, those events have been when NASCAR unveils major changes or makes important announcements about the season.

This year, there is nothing scheduled. And in all honesty, it probably wasn’t necessary — because there’s nothing to announce.

“We feel like we’re coming off a really great year of competition on the track,” NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said Monday at a Charlotte Motor Speedway event. “Certainly, you always want to see improvements. But we’re going to head into 2018 confident that we’re going to continue to put on great racing. One of the things our fans have asked for is not too much change, and we’re listening to that and ready to go for ’18.”

O’Donnell said even the one big significant change that had been discussed last year — the potential to not count caution laps during stage breaks — won’t end up being implemented. There was an industry meeting last week, he said, and the consensus was “we were really comfortable with how things played out last year, so we’re going to continue on.”

“We’ll certainly try to speed it up a little bit in between (stages), but it’ll be the same process,” he said.

Other than that? Changes like a spec pit gun, the reduction in pit crew size, the Hawkeye inspection system and potentially more two-day shows have already been announced.

And NASCAR is feeling good about its positioning heading into the year, despite the departure of even more stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick.

“The mood is really positive,” O’Donnell said. “(There are) a number of changes with drivers, a lot of younger drivers coming through the system. From our perspective, it’s a new NASCAR. We’ve got a lot of new, fresh faces who really want to reach out to the fans and get going with the season, which is refreshing.

“Then when you look at some of our veterans we may have lost, they’re still connected to the sport. Dale Jr. is still connected, which is a great thing. And when you look at the crop of veteran drivers we have, I feel like (they) are really vested in the sport and want to work with those young drivers to say, ‘Let’s go in 2018 and let’s make this a big year.'”

No news conference needed, apparently; that’s the state of NASCAR heading into this new year.


NASCAR Media Tour news conference highlights in the Brian France Era:

2017: Stage racing format is announced, along with playoff points.

2016: Playoff format comes to Xfinity and Trucks; caution clock arrives in Trucks.

2015: Pit road officiating system with high-tech cameras unveiled.

2014: Elimination-style playoff format announced, along with expansion to 16 drivers.

2011: Points system changes to one point for each position; wild cards added to Chase.

2010: “Boys, have at it” policy announced.

2007: Chase expands to 12 drivers and bonus points are added for a win.

2004: The original Chase format is revealed.

Tuesday Brainstorm: Fixing the stage breaks

In an attempt to find someone common ground, let’s have a little Tuesday afternoon brainstorming session.

Here’s the issue: I like the stages and the new format. The stages produce playoff bonus points for the winners (like it), give regular season points that reward consistently good drivers (like it), offer snack and bathroom breaks (like it) and bunch up the field to set up restarts at a point when the races are sometimes blah (LOVE IT).

Those are all great changes, and even the stage-haters seem to concede they like those things.

But the anti-stage people seem to be most upset about something else: Counting the caution laps during the breaks.

It’s important to hear these people. As customers and viewers, they feel ripped off. They feel cheated because by the time the next stage starts, it’s already six or seven laps into it at many tracks (and will be A LOT more this weekend at Martinsville Speedway).

The counter argument to this is the races would be a lot longer if these laps did not count. But the people who feel shorted by caution laps don’t want to hear that.

So this seems like a perception issue, and that means there’s a solution. Let’s figure it out together; we don’t have to fight about the stages!

Here’s one idea: Let’s say there were a set number of caution laps built into a stage break and THEN the next stage would start.

For example: At Fontana, the stages on Sunday were 60 laps/60 laps/80 laps.

Perhaps NASCAR could change it up to something like 55 laps/five-lap caution for stage break/55 laps/five-lap caution for stage break/80 laps.

That might make fans feel better, because the stages would start fresh — with the lap counter at zero. The only problem would be if there was a crash toward the end of a stage and NASCAR needed more time for cleanup, but fans would probably understand those rare circumstances.

Anyway, a small tweak might erase some of the negativity around the stage breaks (which is overshadowing what seems to be a very positive change overall).

Aside from this suggestion, what are some of your ideas to make the stage breaks better?