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The Art of Racing 4-7
Stage racing adds fun
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The NASCAR Monster Energy STP 500 was contested in Martinsville, Va., last Sunday. The half-mile short track showed why NASCAR needs more short tracks on its schedule. When the cars were spread out on the track, they were still nose-to-nose and two and three cars wide. If you didn’t like stage racing during the first five races, Martinsville showed why it is so exciting.
Stage racing does not change the race itself, but it certainly has changed how race teams approach races.  With points on the line for the first two stages of each race, as well as the finish, it’s changed the game in a major way, without really changing the races themselves.
In the past, teams positioned themselves for the finish of the race, circling the track trying to keep the car in one piece for the finish. Stage racing causes teams to challenge for points three times during the race and the excitement was at a maximum in Martinsville. 
Martin Truex Jr. won the first stage while Chase Elliott took the second stage. On the last lap of stage 2, Ricky Stenhouse, who had just been passed by race leader Kyle Busch, used the bump-and-run on Busch to get back on the lead lap before the caution flag waved signifying the end of stage 2. Not only do drivers fight for the stage points, but also to maintain lead-lap status.
Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were the cars to beat at Martinsville. Busch led a race-high 274 laps while Keselowski led 116 laps including the last lap.
Busch finished second and was not happy. Busch said Stenhouse should expect something back after the contact at the end of the second stage. “When you have the leader to your outside and you keep banging him, that’s pretty disrespectful,” Busch said. “Keep doing what you want. It’s going to come back and bite you one of these days.”
While stage racing is a gimmick, it does create excitement three times during a race instead of just the end of the race. Teams that have accumulated the most points during the stages include Elliott (79), Larson (75), Keselowski (73) and Truex (63). Not surprisingly, the four of them comprise the top 4 spots in the Cup standings.
Playoff points are the points earned for stage wins (1 point) and race wins (5 points). These points affect the playoffs. Previously, these were the bonus points given for winning a race during the regular season and used to determine the driver ranking at the beginning of the playoffs. From there on, teams were ranked by the points accumulated during each segment. Under the new playoff format, playoff points will stay with the drivers for the whole duration of the playoffs. Keselowski (10 points) and Truex (9 points) are the leaders in that category.