Martin Truex and Furniture Row Racing figure to benefit from segment racing – The Denver Post

Among the handful of NASCAR rule changes, the major one seems to have been made just for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. If nothing else, it was made partly because of the most recent example they made.

If segment racing with bonus points were used last year, Truex and the No. 78 Toyota likely would have entered the playoff finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of four championship contenders. As it was, Truex didn’t advance to the final eight and finished 11th — in a season when he was named driver of the year by NASCAR.com and the Eastern Motorsports Press Association.

In 2016, Truex had a Cup Series-high 1,384 laps-led and his four victories were tied for second most. He easily qualified for the 10-race “Chase” (a term no longer used by NASCAR) and won two of the first three playoff races. Yet, he failed to make the cut from 12 to eight because of a blown engine at Talladega.

“If you’re going into that final four at Homestead and that’s what’s going to decide the champion, in theory you’d like the guys that have been the best all year to be there,” Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, said Monday at FRR’s media day. “With this new rule, having run well all year will help you make it there, essentially.”

The segment rule will benefit the race’s dominant car, which doesn’t always win.

Beginning at this month’s Daytona 500, races will be run in three stages, with the top 10 drivers at the first two breaks awarded points — 10 for the leader to one for 10th place. Drivers also will earn bonus points during the 26-race regular season, including one point for each stage win, and bonus points will establish playoff seeding for the final 10 races and carry into championship weekend in South Florida.

There no longer will be a bonus point for leading a lap, or a bonus point for leading the most laps.

“You’re going to want to go into the Chase and have as many points banked as you can, and keep gaining them,” Pearn said. “You are going to have trouble. More times than not, you’re going to be involved in a wreck or have a part failure. But it will be nice to have that cushion.”

Truex, who drove for the championship at Homestead-Miami in 2015, finishing fourth, is excited about the new race format. And he doesn’t think the stages will turn off traditional fans who liked it how it was.

“It’s just a caution — a planned caution,” Truex said of the stages. “There’s bonus points there but it still pays the most to win the overall race, points-wise. The stages, only the top 10 get points. Ultimately, where you finish at the end of the day is most important. But, for a team like us last year that led all those laps, those bonus points at the stages would have helped us a lot.

“So it just benefits guys who run up front a lot, that leads laps. That’s what I like about it. It rewards performance throughout the season. It rewards consistency more. Before it was all about winning at the right time. Now it’s about winning all the time.”

One of the other rule changes is beginning a race on the tires the driver used for qualifying. Before, teams would begin a race with new “sticker” tires. Since NASCAR now uses stage qualifying, with slower cars cut from pole contention per stage, Pearn said teams might bow out on their own.

“If we don’t think you’re going to make it to the next round, you might save a lap on your tires because you have to start the race with them,” he said.

NASCAR’S NEW RULES

— Segment (stage) racing. All 36 points races (26 regular season, 10 playoff) will feature three segments, with all three rewarding points (top-10 in Stage 1 and 2 only). Segment lengths for Stage 1 and 2 will be 25-30 percent of the race, but different at every track and dependent on track size and race length.

— Damaged vehicles. Teams will have 5 minutes to fix damaged cars on pit road. If the damage requires the car to go behind the pit wall or the garage for repairs, the car will not be allowed to return to the race.

— NASCAR  no longer will refer to its 10-race playoff as the “Chase,” a term that was developed when it began the playoff format in 2004.

— After the first 26 races, NASCAR will honor the points leader as the “regular-season champion” and award that driver 15 bonus playoff points.

— Less rubber. Teams will have fewer allocated sets of tires at each race. They must begin the race on the set they used during qualifying.

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