Explaining NASCAR race stages, qualifying, points standings & more changes due to coronavirus pandemic

The 2020 Cup Series schedule already has been through a whirlwind of change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down live NASCAR racing for two months. But in order for the sport to return safely, NASCAR had to modify much more than its dates and locations for races in the near future.

NASCAR’s modified Cup Series schedule is underway with races at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, but new protocols for qualifying and practice sessions are in place to keep race team and NASCAR officials away from the track (and each other) as much as possible.

In addition, because some of the mid-week Cup races stuffed into the schedule are shorter in distance than originally planned, NASCAR has released modified stage lengths for the confirmed races in May and June.

Below is all you need to know about the format changes for NASCAR races as the sport navigates an unprecedented challenge.

NASCAR stages

Of the races currently confirmed on NASCAR’s modified Cup Series schedule (below), the May 24 running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the only race that will run on its originally scheduled date and at its originally scheduled time. The only NASCAR race that features four stages, its 400-lap format of 100 laps per stage remains unchanged.

Because they will be run so soon after the completion of a prior event, the Cup races at Charlotte (May 27), Bristol (May 31) and Martinsville (June 10) will be shorter distance-wise than your typical Cup race. Below are the distances and stages for all of the races currently confirmed on the Cup Series schedule.

An important note: NASCAR warns that the stage lengths and start times for the races above are tentative and subject to change.

NASCAR’s 2020 Cup Series schedule beyond June 21 is unclear. Based on the original schedule, a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader at Pocono Raceway would be next (June 27-28), followed by what now would be a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader with an IndyCar race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4-5.

Qualifying, starting lineups

In the name of health and safety, NASCAR wants to keep teams and officials away from the track as much as possible, which is why it decided qualifying would not be necessary for races through June 21 at Darlington, Charlotte, Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Homestead-Miami and Talladega.

Instead, the lineups for upcoming races at those tracks will be set mostly by the finishing orders of prior races. The exception is the May 24 running of the Coca-Cola 600, for which same-day qualifying at Charlotte will set the field.

Darlington (May 17)

The starting lineup for the first Darlington race was be determined by both owner points and a random draw. The 40 cars were split into four groups based on points, and there was a random draw for starting position within each of those groups.

Darlington (May 20)

The results of the first Darlington race set the field for the second Darlington race — kind of. The lineup for the Darlington race on May 20, scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET and broadcast live on FS1, will feature an inversion based on the results of Sunday’s race. From NASCAR:

Below is a table that illustrates where each finisher in the May 17 Darlington race will start the May 20 race. Based on their finishing positions in the first race, Ryan Preece and Ty DIllon will start the second Darlington race on the front row.

NASCAR also announced that pit-stall selection for the May 17 Darlington race would be based on charter team owner points, then open team owner points. Pit selection for the May 20 Darlington race will be determined by the finishing order of the May 17 race.

Charlotte (May 24, May 27)

The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on May 24 will utilize same-day qualifying to set the field. The starting lineup for the May 27 race at Charlotte, though, will be set by the same procedure NASCAR will use to set the field for the second Darlington race — an inversion of positions 1-20, then positions 21-40 remain the same from the Coca-Cola 600 results.

As for pit selection at Charlotte, the Coca-Cola 600 stalls will be determined by qualifying, and the May 27 Charlotte race pit stalls will be set by the results of Coca-Cola 600.

NASCAR has not yet confirmed how it will set the field for its Cup Series races at Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol, Homestead-Miami and Talladega.

Practice

For the same reason NASCAR ditched qualifying for most of the races on its modified Cup schedule, there will be no practice sessions ahead of any of the events.

To make up for that lack of practice, NASCAR announced a modified competition caution procedure “to accommodate longer pit stops, allowing teams to make more extended in-race adjustments that might normally be made during practice.”

Below are the details of NASCAR’s new procedure for competition cautions, which will take place in “the early portions of the race”:

The competition caution for the first Darlington race on May 17 arrived at Lap 30. NASCAR has not yet announced the laps for competition cautions during future races.

Points standings

NASCAR remains committed to running a complete schedule of 36 Cup Series races in 2020, including a 10-race playoff slate it hopes will remain intact with originally scheduled tracks and dates. So NASCAR has not changed the way it awards points during and after races.

Each finishing spot in the 40-car field earns points, from a maximum of 40 points to the driver who finishes first to one point for the driver who finishes 40th. NASCAR also awards points to the top 10 finishers in Stages 1-2 in each race (10 for first place, nine for second and so on).

The winner of each race gets a bonus of five playoff points, and the winners of Stage 1 and 2 each get one bonus playoff point.

Below is the current top 10 in NASCAR Cup Series points standings based on the completion of five races.

The complete NASCAR Cup Series point standings can be found here.

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