To cap off their 32nd annual media week leading up to the start of the 2014 season, NASCAR announced new drastic changes to the format of their Sprint Cup Chase. The playoff field will now be expanded to 16 teams and the champion will be decided by a new round-by-round elimination.
The top 15 drivers with the most victories over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the NASCAR Chase Grid. The 16th Chase spot will be rewarded to the points leader after the final race at Richmond International Raceway, if he or she does not have a victory.
Once the 16 drivers have been established, their points will reset to zero and they will move on to the Challenger Round, which will be competed over three races at Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway. The top-12 in points after Dover will move on to the Contender Round (at Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway), where the points will again be reset. The top-eight after Talladega will then move on to the Eliminator Round (at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway), where the points will be reset yet again. The top four after Phoenix will compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a winner-take-all race that will determine the champion based on whoever of the four has the best finish. There will be no bonus points for leading a lap at Miami.
“Everything about this is focused around winning, and that’s exactly what our fans want,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “We have millions of fans and some very loud and passionate fans, especially when we change anything. The vast majority of the fans that we communicated with really love this because they don’t like points racing. Being the best down the stretch is most important and this is going to elevate the opportunity for more drivers to have those moments.”
Not everyone, especially avid race fans, were excited about the change stating that with the new playoff format NASCAR was trying too much to be like other sports like football and basketball. To that concern, NASCAR president Mike Helton said that the change will appeal to the avid fan that wanted more emphasis placed on winning and the casual fan who is confused by an intricate point system.
“I’ve been an avid fan for 50 years, and there’ve been times in my career in NASCAR I’ve had to take my avid fan hat off to make tough decisions,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “This decision and where we’re going with the grid is exciting to me officially, but it’s even more exciting to me as an avid fan.”
NASCAR admits that the change is something that the drivers and their team will have to get used to and that an increased focus on officiating will be needed, but that the change was needed and in the long-run will be better for the sport.
I personally like the new changes. It makes the sport and their confusing point system much easier to understand and therefore will increase its outreach. I mean who wouldn’t like to see Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon compete in a winner take all race.