Chase Gets New Format


NASCAR Chairman Brian France has announced a new championship format that will put greater emphasis on winning races all season long and expands the current Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field to 16 drivers. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Looking ahead, rather than back, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France altered the sport’s course with a radical way of determining the Sprint Cup champion.

Where the champion once was determined over a full season and has been determined by a 10-race Chase since 2004, the champion now will be crowned after a series of eliminations and one-race shootout at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Riding around and being pleased because the current format rewards consistency, those days are going to be pretty much over,’’ France said Thursday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who went winless, would have won the championship last year with this system, although NASCAR officials say that Chase would have been run differently by drivers.

The new Chase features several changes, including:

  • Expanding from 12 to 16 teams.
  • Winning in the first 26 races all but guarantees a driver a spot in the Chase.
  • Eliminating four drivers each after the third, sixth and ninth Chase races.
  • Resetting the points after the third, sixth and ninth Chase races.
  • Any Chase driver who wins a Chase race advances to the next round.
  • The final four drivers - with their points reset - racing at Homestead for the championship. There will be no bonus points for leading laps in that race so the highest-finishing driver among the four wins the title.

A risky proposal some would argue with this new format, but France said NASCAR faced a bigger risk if it didn’t make these changes. He noted that series officials had been contemplating such changes for more than three years - when NASCAR changed the points system.

For those who don’t like the new Chase?

“The vast majority of the fans that we communicated with ... really love this,’’ France said. “They love it because they really don't like points racing.’’

Kyle Busch raised concerns about the new Chase system Thursday morning before the announcement was made but after NASCAR officials had told teams about the format. He questioned the notion that Earnhardt could have won the title last year without a victory.

“How does that reward winning?’’ Busch said.

Busch also questioned having the finale at Homestead every year.

“Is it really fair to leave it in the same place every year?’’ Busch said. “It’s more fan savvy to move it around, it’s more sport savvy to move it around.’’

France said he understands there will be criticism to the new format, but says more fans will like it as it goes.

“The more they understand it, the better it gets,’’ France said.

With this emphasis on winning, there could be more contact in the final laps of races. France likes that.

“If it's late in the race and you've got a faster car, we expect some contact,’’ France said. “We expect, obviously there are limits, but that's always part of NASCAR to have some version of contact late in the race.’’

The way the Chase breaks down is this way:

The top 15 drivers with the most wins in the first 26 races earn a spot in the Chase provided they finish in the top 30 in points and attempt to qualify for every race. NASCAR stated there could be medical exceptions to this rule.

Denny Hamlin said that exception could be needed with NASCAR requiring baseline concussion testing this season. Those tests will help determine if a driver must miss a race after an accident.

“I think there’s a good chance a few guys miss some races this year,’’ Hamlin said, referring to the concussion policy. “I think this format kind of protects those guys.’’

There are ways for a driver without a win to make the Chase after the 26th race - which is at Richmond International Raceway. If the driver leading the points is winless, they’ll make the Chase regardless of if there are 16 drivers with wins.

If there are fewer than 16 winners by Richmond, the remaining Chase spots go to the drivers highest in the points. If there are more than 16 winners by Richmond, the tiebreaker will be wins and then driver points.

David Ragan would have made the Chase last year with this system based on his victory at Talladega Superspeedway. That could be significant for his low-budget team.

“For Front Row Motorsports ... and our sponsors, this could be a game-changer,’’ he said of the new Chase format. “It gives opportunity for mid-level teams to excel if they get hot at the right time.’’

Once the field is set, the drivers will have their point totals adjusted to 2,000 with three bonus points for each win in the first 26 events.

Then come the eliminations.

The Chase field will be cut to 12 drivers after the third race, and eight drivers after the sixth race. The field then will be trimmed to four drivers after the ninth race.

Any driver winning a Chase race advances to the next round regardless of how they finish in the other two races in that round.

France defended the changes by saying series officials have a responsibility to ensure “we put on the best and most exciting racing product on the track each and every week. That’s what our fans expect.’’

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