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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)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Aric Almirola (R), driver of the #43 Charter Ford, inspects his car after crashing during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Erik Jones, driver of the #51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series car (Photo Credit: NASCAR)
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Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, lead a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, lead the field on a late restart during the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, leads a pack of trucks during the NASCAR Camping World Series UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway on June 26, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Series UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway on June 26, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway on June 26, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/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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