Modern NASCAR rules are complicated, often for the sake of entertainment—if you can get past the confusion. But new rules the sanctioning body announced on Tuesday seem more about logistics than entertainment, and they’ll impact pit stops at seven races across NASCAR’s two lower national divisions.
The rules are for events run by the Xfinity Series and Truck Series—the second- and third-tier national divisions of NASCAR, respectively—on weekends when they’re not at the same track as the top-tier Cup Series. Not being at the track together means the lower series have a harder time sharing team members with the Cup Series, so NASCAR’s making pit stops matter less at those races.
There are four such events throughout the season in the Xfinity Series—a race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, two at Iowa Speedway, and another at Road America—and three in the Trucks, including Iowa, Gateway, and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
The rules announcement went into a huge breakdown of how pit stops will work at those tracks, but it’s way easier to share this graphic than to try to repeat any of this in paragraph form. (If you doubt that, read NASCAR’s word explanation.)
So, yeah: The field will be frozen upon the caution, and where things go from there will depend on whether it’s a stage break. If you don’t know what a stage break is, here. There are different types of tire-changing stops a team can choose to do under those cautions, which will be either fuel and two tires or four tires and no fuel.
Some cautions will give teams two opportunities to pit if desired, meaning they can do all four tires and fuel, and NASCAR’s so-called “quickie yellows” will only allow one. Vehicles will line up after the pit stops in the order they were frozen in, reallocated into three groups: first, the cars that didn’t pit, followed by the cars that pitted once, and brought up in the rear by the cars that pitted twice. After that will come the stragglers, like wave-around cars and cars that received penalties.
In a press conference after the announcement, Xfinity Series technical manager Eric Peterson said stage lengths will be adjusted at the races running these pit-stop rules in order to prevent the need for a green-flag stop for fuel.
Peterson said logistics are part of the reasoning behind the rules, as quoted by the NASCAR announcement, and that competition is as well:
“Any time you have races where we’re not a companion to Cup or Cup is in a different area of the country, it is logistically harder for the Xfinity and Truck teams to accomplish those races and do all the things we do on a normal weekend. … A lot of the teams — a good portion, not all of them — do utilize sharing pit crew personnel between Cup and Xfinity and Gander Trucks that it is a logistical hurdle for the teams to fly those individuals back and forth. Trying this procedure at these events certainly alleviates a lot of that burden on the teams to make that happen.”
The reasoning makes sense on the surface, given that pit stops and the athletes carrying them out are just as competitive as what happens on the actual track in NASCAR, and that those factors have an effect on track position. But the rules are a lot to take in, and it might make you wonder why they aren’t more simple.
When asked, a NASCAR spokesperson confirmed that the rules are as complex as they are because it’s more realistic than getting rid of live pit stops entirely for the same result. The quasi-live pit setup allows NASCAR to leave strategy in the mix of things, rather than letting drivers come down pit road in a frozen order and do whatever they want. With these more complicated rules, the order can be shaken up by virtue of pit choices even if it is technically “frozen” at caution.
Most concepts that require a graphical explanation fall into the “probably too confusing” category, even if they are done with decent intentions. But if these new pit-stop rules do tie everyone’s brains in a knot, at least they won’t be in use often next year.