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Chase revamp sets up NASCAR finale showdown

NASCAR has overhauled its Chase play-off system, using an elimination format to whittle down the field in stages before a winner-take-all finale.
The NASCAR Series has announced a dramatic change to the Chase format used to decide the winner of the Sprint Cup Series championship, with the aim being to make winning a race a top priority throughout the year.

Previously the Chase split the contenders after 26 races of the 36-race season, elevating the top ten drivers in the points together with two wild cards based on the number of wins during the season to date. The championship was then traditionally decided by the points accrued by the dozen drivers from that point forward to the final round at Homestead-Miami in November.

But that will all change in 2014, with a brand new format for the final ten races of the year which starts with an increase in Chase contenders to 16, but then eliminates four of that field after three more races. It then reduces the number still further after the next three, ultimately leaving just four drivers still in contention going into the season finale.

“We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, 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,” explained Brian France, NASCAR's chairman and CEO.

“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," he added. "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."

The initial field of 16 will be the set by the points leader together with the top 15 drivers with the most wins up to the 26th race of the season at Richmond in September. If there are more race winners than Chase spaces available then the tie-breaker will be the number of wins and the number of points the drivers has earned; if there are fewer drivers, then the remaining spaces will be allocated to the highest points scorers not to have won a race.

The 16 drivers who progress will still have their points reset to 2000 with a small allowance of three points per win to date, as has been the case in past years. They go forward to the first part of the new-look Chase, dubbed the 'Challenger Round', which will consist of the next three races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover.

The winners of those races will automatically progress to the next round which will comprise 12 drivers in total, with the remaining spots decided by championship points. Four drivers will be eliminated from the title battle at this point. The 12 who go through will have their points adjusted to 3000 for the duration of the 'Contender Round' held at next three races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega, after which the same elimination process will see the top eight race winners and points leaders progress to the third 'Eliminator Round' held at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, all of them getting a temporary points boost to 4000.

The final cut-off will come into effect after the penultimate Cup race of the year, and halve the remaining eight contenders down to four going into the season finale at Homestead. With the temporary points boost for the quartet now up to 5000 and no bonus points on offer in the final event, it means that all of the last four go into the final race on completely even footing, and whichever of the foursome finishes highest in that race will be duly crowned champion.

"No math, no bonus points," confirmed France. "It's as simple as it gets."

The aim of the new system is to place much more emphasis on race wins, and also to extend the tension of the 'cut-off' eliminations right through the Chase play-offs while ensuring that no one can lock up the title before the chequered flag at Homestead, regardless of how much they may dominate the rest of the year.

In theory, a driver could win 35 of the Cup races in 2014 and still not be crowned champion at the end if he crashes out at Homestead.

All the championship finalists will be assured of finishing in the top four; however, other drivers eliminated from the Chase before the final round will have their points reset to the traditional 2000 level (together with any points they have accrued in play-off races in the meantime) meaning that a driver who was eliminated from the Chase early on could still end up clinching fifth place in the final driver standings.

While there are undoubtedly questions, rough edges, anomalies and 'kinks' that will need sorting out over the coming weeks, the system certainly seems more robust in securing its aims than the contentious 'double points' final round idea being trialled in F1 in 2014. NASCAR officials admitted that F1's qualifying format with its elimination stages had been one of the models that had helped influence the new system

France said that most drivers had been "mostly positive", although Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch earlier criticised the consultation process the series had used to sound out drivers over the revisions to the Chase and said that there were significant elements he didn't agree with, although these weren't elaborated in detail ahead of NASCAR's official announcement of the Chase format revamp on Thursday afternoon.

Others in the sport were more supportive of the initiative.

“This is a great move at the right time. More than ever, the focus in every race during the season will be on winning, and I can see this changing race strategy everywhere the teams go,” said Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports, Inc. "As for the 10-race Chase format, the changes will certainly be good for Dover [International Speedway] in September, and the eliminations should create the same level of excitement we just witnessed in the recent NFL play-offs. The fans will love this."


Tagged as: Kyle Busch , chase , Brian France

Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, celebrates in Champions Victory Lane after winning the series championship following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17, 2013 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, celebrates winning the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 17, 2013 during the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson secured his title with a 9th place finish. This is the sixth career championship for Johnson. At left is Lowe`s crew chief Chad Knaus.(Photo Credit: HHP/Brian Lawdermilk for Chevrolet)
Brian France, chairman & CEO of NASCAR, and Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, speak during a press conference following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2013 in Joliet, Illinois. NASCAR announced that Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, would be added as a 13th driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Back Row, L-R) Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s American Heritage Chocolate Toyota, Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg`s / Cheez-It Ford, Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Home Depot / Husky Toyota, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet, (Front Row, L-R) Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Scotchgard Ford, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet, Kurt Busch, driver of the #78 Furniture Row / Beautyrest Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, anid Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, pose with the Sprint Cup Trophy after qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott (left) congratulates his son Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. This will mark Chase Elliott`s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Brian Vickers, driver of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, answers questions from media during a press conference before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. Vickers was forced to withdraw from competition due to blood clots. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS finishes in third place and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS finishes in second place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive4Clots.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, climbs into his car prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS qualifies for fifth position Friday, March 20, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Larson is 17th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS qualifies for 2nd position Friday, March 20, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Joining him on the front row will be Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS who won the Pole position. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS celebrates with his team after winning the Pole position Friday, March 20, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Busch is 33rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Joining him on the front row will be Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS won the Pole position Friday, March 20, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Busch is 33rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Joining him on the front row will be Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson drives the #42 Target Chevrolet through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, poses for a photo with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the pole during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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a1gatorz

January 31, 2014 4:58 PM

Well , it looks to me they keep getting farther & farther away from anything that seems realistic . Racing is nothing like other sports that hold playoffs ! Why not give significantly higher points for placing 1st , 2nd , 3rd ? As to reward racers winning races ! Isn't that what its all about ?



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