Done deal: NASCAR announces overhaul to Chase format
Brian France is going to get the "game-seven moment" he's long sought.
France, the NASCAR Chairman and CEO, announced a new winner-take-all Sprint Cup championship format Thursday afternoon during the final press conference of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Per France, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion will be determined in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the top four drivers in points heading into the race each having an equal chance to win.
Under the new format, 16 drivers will qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the NASCAR Chase Grid -- provided they have finished in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race (except in rare instances). The 16th Chase position will go to the points leader after race No. 26, if he/she does not have a victory. In the event that there are 16 or more different winners over 26 races, the only winless driver who can earn a Chase grid spot would be the points leader after 26 races.
If there are fewer than 16 different winners in the first 26 races, the remaining Chase grid positions will go to those winless drivers highest in points. If there are 16 or more winners in the first 26 races, the ties will first be broken by number of wins, followed by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver points.
As has been the case in recent seasons, at the close of the regular season, drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 plus 3 points for each regular-season race victory. Winless drivers receive no bonus points.
After the first three races of the Chase -- known as the Challenger Round -- the bottom four Chase drivers in points will be eliminated from championship eligibility, leaving 12 drivers to fight for the title. Any driver who wins a Chase race automatically advances to the next segment. Points will be reset after this round to 3,000 points for each driver.
Following the next three races of the Chase -- the Contender Round -- the bottom four remaining drivers again will be eliminated, cutting the title hopefuls to eight. Points will be reset to 4,000 for each driver after this round.
After another three races -- the Eliminator Round -- the bottom four remaining drivers will be axed, leaving four drivers to contend for the championship.
At the season finale, the final four drivers will have their point totals reset to 5,000 so all four are tied prior to the Ford 400. Whoever among the four drivers does best at Homestead will be the series champion for the year.
"No math, no bonus points for leading laps, (or) previous wins," said France. "It's going to be the first of four drivers to cross the finish line. And you know what? That's as simple as it gets."
Additionally, drivers who are eliminated in the Contender and Eliminator Rounds will have their points readjusted. Each eliminated driver will return to the Chase-start base of 2,000 (plus any regular season wins bonus points), with their accumulated points starting with race No. 27 added. This will allow all drivers not in contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title to continue to race for the best possible season-long standing, with final positions fifth through 16th still up for grabs.
"NASCAR's core responsibility is to always look down the road and position the industry to excite our fans with the highest level of competition in the world," said France. " ... 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."
France said NASCAR had three goals in coming up with the new system: 1. Reward winning more. 2. Make running for a championship much easier to understand. 3. Expand the field of Chase drivers "while ultimately rewarding the most worthy, battle-tested champion."
After using a single points system from 1975 to 2003 that determined the Sprint Cup champion based on results for the entire season, NASCAR has now changed how its champion is determined four times in the last 11 years.
NASCAR adopted the 10-race, season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2004. The sanctioning body expanded the Chase field from 10 to 12 drivers in 2007, and revamped the points system in 2011. The 2011 season ended with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tied in points, but Stewart taking the title by virtue of a tiebreaker for winning more races than Edwards.
France said he figured that some fans won't like the new format, but said most would.
"We have millions of fans and we have some very loud and passionate fans, especially when we change anything. We understand that," France said. "The vast majority of the fans that we communicated with, and I think we're the best in sports in staying close to our fan base, really love this. They love it because they really don't like points racing. At the end of the day, although consistency is important in our sport, and it remains important, it's just less important, so they like that. They understand winner‑take‑all formats, and they understand being the best down the stretch."