When NASCAR elected to go with this new three-stage process with each race, it was the drivers that wanted to be rewarded for running well at different parts of the race.
Rewarding the top-10 with points at the end of the first and second stages, plus a playoff point to the winner, seemed like a great concept, and through two races it has shown that it will work.
Here’s the one thing, winning the first and second stage is excellent, because it is a checkered flag the driver sees.
However, it’s not the checkered flag that is the most desired.
The one flag that matters the most to every driver is the one at the end of the race, the black and white checkers. That flag is the one that pays out the most points, the most playoff points, and is the one that signifies a winner, along with a burnout, a shower of either beer, soda, or Gatorade. That is the stage winner everyone remembers at the end of the day.
When it came to Sunday’s race in Atlanta, Kevin Harvick dominated every part of the race, led the most laps, took the first stage, then the second. He was on track to win that third stage.
But, one pit stop changed it. Not so much the stop itself, but Harvick’s miscue on the speed of pit road put him back in the pack. That one mistake, it kept him from the big payout victory. Instead, it was Brad Keselowski celebrating in victory lane, winning the final stage and getting the big pay day for the triumph.
I’m still learning the stage racing, just like everyone else in the sport. It does mean that no race will go caution free now, but the only cautions that could come any given weekend are the stage breaks. Still, it has made the first two races rather interesting, and each week it will be a different set of circumstances on how to run each race. Is the focus on just that stage, then refocus on the next, or simply focus on winning every aspect, including the ultimate victory?
That may be the one question that will have a different answer with each race.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick
STAGE 2 WINNER: Kevin Harvick
RESULTS: 1-Keselowski 2-Larson 3-Kenseth 4-Kahne 5-Elliott 6-Logano 7-Kurt Busch 8-Truex Jr. 9-Harvick 10-McMurray
NOTABLE FINISHES: 16-Kyle Busch 19-Johnson 30-Earnhardt Jr. 38-Hamlin
CAUTIONS: 6 for 32 laps. Lap 87-93 (Stage 1 Conclusion); 172-177 (Stage 2 Conclusion); 241-245 (Debris); 264-269 (Oil on track from #23); 280-283 (#14 incident-T1); 311-314 (#3 Stall-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 9 among 5 drivers. K. Harvick 1-36; R. Newman 37-39; K. Harvick 40-127; J. Johnson 128-129; B. Keselowski 130-141; K. Harvick 142-264; B. Keselowski 265-266; K. Harvick 267-311; K. Larson 312-318; B. Keselowski 319-325.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 33 Mins, 8 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 140.898 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.564 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Total Points/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]): 1. Harvick, 90 ; 2. Kurt Busch, -4 ; 3. Keselowski, -6 ; 4. Elliott, -8; 5. Logano, -10; 6. Larson, -11; 7. Truex Jr, -23; 8. Blaney, -27; 9. Kahne, -27; 10. Bayne, -32; 11. Allmendinger, -40; 12. McMurray, -41; 13. Almirola, -43; 14. Bowyer, -44; 15. Menard, -46; 16. Kneseth, -49.