Expansion, eliminations highlight Chase changes
January 30, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
MORE: Official news release | Changes explained | Chase Facts and FAQ | Social buzz
RELATED: Full coverage of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format changes
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format has been tweaked and adjusted in the 10 seasons it has been used to determine the sanctioning body's Sprint Cup champion.
Thursday, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France announced a major overhaul for the 10-race format, one that will see the field expand from 12 to 16 teams, with three shootout-style rounds culminating in a single championship-determining event among the final four remaining competitors.
"We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, plus puts a premium on winning races, and concludes with a best-of-the-best, first-to-the-finish-line showdown race -- all of which is exactly what fans want," France said.
"We have looked at a number of concepts for the last three years through fan research, models and simulations, and also maintained extensive dialogue with our drivers, teams and partners. The new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be thrilling, easy to understand and help drive our sport's competition to a whole new level."
Under the new format, the 16 available qualifying positions for the Chase will be awarded to those drivers that have at least one victory through the first 26 races, as long as he or she is in the top 30 in points and has attempted to qualify for each of the season's previous points races. On Thursday, NASCAR officials said that a medical exemption could be given if a driver missed a race during the season for a valid medical reason but still had won a race at some point during the season.
If more than 16 drivers earn at least one win, only those highest in the standings (with at least one win) following the 26th race would advance. However, should the points leader after 26 races be winless, he or she would be awarded the 16th and final Chase position.
Only twice in the history of NASCAR have there been more than 15 winners in the first 26 Cup races (1961 and 2003).
If fewer than 16 drivers have at least one win, all remaining positions to fill the grid would be determined based on points standings.
The 16 drivers qualifying for the Chase will have their points reset to 2,000 points, and will be seeded based on bonus points (three per win) earned prior to the start of the Chase.
The nine races leading up to the season-ending event are divided into three individual rounds consisting of three races each.
Chase eligible drivers posting at least one win in each of the rounds will continue to advance. Remaining available positions will be determined and seeded based points earned during each round.
Points for those in the Chase will be reset prior to the start of each round with all drivers starting the round with the same amount of points.
Drivers not in the Chase will continue to earn points under the current non-Chase points format.
The Challenger Round -- Opens the Chase and consists of races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover. Twelve of the 16 drivers will advance from this round.
A win in any of the three races automatically advances the driver to the next round, with remaining positions to be determined based on points earned during the round.
The 12 Chase drivers advancing will be seeded based on points earned through the three previous races and will have his or her points total reset to 3,000 points prior to the start of the next round.
The Contender Round -- Consists of races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega. Eight of the 12 drivers will advance from this round.
As in the previous round, a win in any of the three Contender Round races automatically advances the driver to the next round, with remaining positions to be determined based on points earned during the round.
Points totals will be reset at 4,000 points for those advancing.
The Eliminator Round -- Consists of races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. Four of the eight drivers will advance from this round to earn a berth in the season-ending Sprint Cup Championship (final) round.
Eliminator Round winners automatically advance, with the remaining position or positions determined by points earned in the three races.
The four drivers that advance into the final round will have their points total reset to 5,000 following the Phoenix race.
Sprint Cup Championship -- The highest finishing driver at Homestead among the four eligible drivers will win the Sprint Cup championship.
While bonus points for laps led will be awarded through previous rounds, no bonus points for laps led will be awarded in the final race for the Chase contenders. Finishing position in the final race will determine the champion.
For those Chase drivers that fail to advance out of an individual round, their points total will be reset at 2,000 points at the conclusion of that particular segment. They will continue to earn points based on finishes in the remaining races, with no further adjustments. Thus, a driver that fails to advance out of the initial Challenger Round could earn enough points to finish as high as fifth in the final points standings. He or she would finish no worse than 16th based on the initial points reset.
Winning takes on much more importance under the new format, something France said was "the key."
While officials had an elimination format on the drawing board for several years, France said it wasn't until this format, which "was developed to emphasize the entire season" came together that officials felt the time was right to make the change.
And, he said, "… we didn't eliminate points racing by doing this. It will still be playing a role."
While it would be difficult to consider all of the potential scenarios, France said he believes officials covered as many bases as possible.
"The probability is that the best teams down the stretch in the fall … are going to be the best teams (in general)," he said. "Anything is possible, (anything) could happen today, but I think this (format) makes it more probable that teams are going to have to win and be at their best over a longer period of time."
NASCAR President Mike Helton said while it may be a lot to digest in terms of how the champion is determined, the format change will make "every race special."
"I'm an avid fan of this sport, I've loved it for 50 years," said Helton. "I grew up in Bristol and you can't grow up in Bristol and not know NASCAR, and more often than not, you're going to become a fan of NASCAR. There's not much more traditional in this sport than Bristol. I'm a fan of Bristol, a fan of Talladega, of Daytona; I like the uniqueness of each one of the facilities. Now each race is going to be more exciting I think.
"I just ask the fans if they will give this a chance and let it sink in. And that's why today is such a big day, because now we can tell the world what it is instead of people speculating, and start answering the questions around it."