When NASCAR implemented the rule of awarding Segment Points in the 2017 season, it became the most substantive change to the sport in the Modern Era. It changed not only the pointsâ structure, but altered the momentum a driver might carry into the playoffs, fundamentally changed the way drivers race, and created a wide variety of strategies never seen before.
It was a game changer. Literally in some cases as fantasy games that award NASCAR points went from a baseline of about 40 to one of a potential of 60. It meant that the winner might not earn maximum points if someone was much more productive in the first half of the race and finished at the front of the pack in both segments.
The bonus points were also very important for driversâ playoff hopes. Kyle Busch was mediocre in the first couple of rounds and might not have even had a chance to win the Cup if not for his bonuses.
But it was one of the drivers who did not make the playoffs that earned my most Segment Points. Joey Logano banked 358 during the season and was among the top 10 in 53 of the 73 segments run. He amassed 11 Wins â second only to Buschâs 12 (if one counts Segment 2 at Homestead). Those 11 wins came on a variety of tracks although he was most productive on unrestricted, intermediate speedways during the season.
The Championship 4 were also quite productive with Kevin Harvick earning 326 points, Busch 299, Martin Truex Jr. 293, and Denny Hamlin 271. It is notable that these four drivers carried that momentum into Homestead and all four of them finished among the top-10 in the Ford 400, but NASCAR does not award Segment Points to playoff drivers in the winner-take-all format.
Busch and Logano had a significant advantage over the field in terms of Segment Wins.
Truex was fairly close to the leaders with eight stage victories, but Harvick and Hamlin (six each) had half of Buschâs total. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott earned five Stage Wins, Brad Keselowski earned four, Kurt Busch had three and no one else had more than two. Strategy was a key component in determining some of the segment wins because teams occasionally short-pitted â particularly on road courses.
It was the number of points that became a difference-maker on several occasions. Â Larsonâs 259 points earned helped soften the blow on several weekends when he crashed in the final segment.
Segment performance also helped determine domination. Elliott was able to sweep the segments at Watkins Glen in route to his victory. Keselowski did the same at Martinsville in the spring STP 500. His other two segment wins came in the Coke 600, however. He finished only 19th there, but with 20 extra points added to his total, he earned as many points as the 10th-place finisher Harvick.
Truex swept the stages at Martinsville in the fall before winning that race. With sweeps by the winners of both races, it is one of the reasons we think of this paperclip-shaped short track as a rhythm course.
The 2019 season was a departure from the previous two seasons. Sixteen drivers won at least one stage last year, but the wealth was spread much more evenly among the majority of drivers.
Sixteen drivers also won in 2018, but Harvickâs victory in 21 segments and Truexâs 10 kept the remainder of the field from being very productive. In 2017, 13 drivers won a stage while it was also heavily top loaded with 19 for Truex and 13 for Kyle Busch.
Last year, it seemed to be anyoneâs guess as to who would win a stage. Three seasons is not much of a sampling from which to draw conclusions and we will have to wait and see what transpires in 2020, but keep an eye on the NASCAR Fantasy Live preview for a list of who has performed best in this regard on each weekâs track.
* Harvick would have earned 16 points at Homestead if they were awarded to playoff drivers. Busch would have earned 18, Truex 17, and Hamlin 12. The numbers in parentheses are what the drivers would have earned at Homestead.