Taking Center Stage
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on April 17, 2017 | 10:05 A.M. EST
Kyle Larson has earned the most points in Stage 1 and 2 so far this season and Martin Truex Jr. has the most stage wins. (Photo: Getty Images)
NASCAR's new format featuring stage racing now has seven Monster Energy Series races in the books.
Not only can the top-10 finishers in each stage earn points - with 10 going to the winner - but the winner also takes home an important playoff point to use if a spot is secured. Twenty-three drivers have earned at least one point in one of the two opening stages of each race since the Daytona 500 took the green flag in February.
Along with his win at Auto Club Speedway, Kyle Larson has accumulated a series-leading 87 points in Stages 1 and 2 to help give him the overall points lead at the first off-weekend of the season.
"Going into the year, I felt like we would have the speed to make the playoffs anyway," said Larson, who also earned a stage win at Auto Club. "Hopefully, we can get more stage wins and get more race wins to pad ourselves when it gets to playoff time so we can use those when we need to."
Chase Elliott, who has yet to visit Victory Lane in the Cup Series, is second in both the standings and stage points earned. He leads the series with 11 top-five finishes in Stages 1 and 2, including stage wins at Phoenix and Martinsville.
"It’s added a cool element to the races and the big thing is that it lends an opportunity to get some points to go toward the championship. That’s the most important thing," Elliott said. "There are a lot of points to be gained by winning those stages throughout the season that can give you a huge advantage once the end of the season comes and the last 10 races start."
Las Vegas winner Martin Truex Jr. leads the series in stage wins with four and has finished in the top five in eight of the nine stages he's earned points in.
"The stage racing has gone well. It's been fun and added a little kink to things," Truex said. "Fortunately for us, we've been able to get some points out of it so it's been good."
Brad Keselowski, who is the only multiple-race winner so far this season, has 10 top-five finishes in the first two stages. He's yet to win a stage but is tied with Larson with scoring points in 13 of the 14 stages. Keselowski's 10 playoff points earned based on his two race wins rank just ahead of Truex's nine points.
"Points are always going to be important," Keselowski said. "It’s our own measuring stick as a team. We measure ourselves by how we’re sitting in the points, so we’re always going to put a lot of emphasis on just that. Collecting these playoff bonus points is super, super critical for the back half of the season and that dominates a lot of teams' thinking at these races, at least the really strong teams."
The 82 points Keselowski has earned in Stage 1 and 2 have helped keep him towards the top (fourth) of the series standings following a 35-point penalty after the Phoenix race. Last week the penalty was upheld and the team has requested a final appeal hearing.
Prior to the Daytona 500, the top 10-finishers in the Can-Am Duel at Daytona also earned points, but since the field was split those points are not reflected in the totals above.