Confirming speculation that has raged in recent weeks, NASCAR has revealed that it will be modifying the way in which the champion of its premier Nextel Cup series will be determined, creating a 'chase for the championship' covering the last ten races of the 36-race season.

"The 'chase for the championship' will provide a better opportunity for more drivers to win the championship, creating excitement and drama throughout the entire season," NASCAR president Mike Helton explained, "In addition, the 'chase' will showcase our drivers' talents, increasing the value for all teams and their sponsors."

Under the current point system, no driver outside the top ten with ten races remaining has come back to win the championship of NASCAR's premier series but, after the first 26 races of the inaugural Nextel Cup season, all drivers in the top ten - plus any others within 400 points of the leader - will earn a berth in the 'chase for the championship', effectively forming a 'post-season' play-off schedule to rival those in the NFL, NHL and MLB.

All drivers in the 'chase' will have their point totals adjusted, with the first-place driver beginning the 'post-season' with 5050 points; the second-place driver with 5045, and so on with incremental five-point drops continuing through the list of title contenders. This move has been introduced since the reshuffle was first mooted to help salve fears that the points leader heading into the 'play-offs' would be unfairly punished by starting on a level with his rivals.

In addition, NASCAR is making a change to the current point system for the first time since the system's 1975 inception, awarding 180 points to a race winner, compared to the previous award of 175 points. Five-point bonuses for leading a lap and leading the most laps will still be awarded. The 180-point award will ensure that a race winner gets more points than a race runner-up, and the change will be in effect for all three of NASCAR's national series - taking in the Nextel Cup, Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series.

At season's end, every driver who finishes in the NASCAR Top Ten will receive a point-fund payout of at least $1million, with the champion receiving more than $5million. In addition, the eleventh-place driver in the final standings will receive a $250,000 bonus.

"This new approach to determining our champion has both the drivers and the fans in mind," Helton said, "The 'chase for the championship' will be a continuation of our season, with heightened drama. It will increase the spotlight on all competitors and increase the value of being in the series for all teams.

"This will be exciting - and fair. Since 1975, using the current point system, no driver has ever been outside the NASCAR Top Ten with ten races remaining and come
back to win the championship in our premier series. We added the 400-point cut-off to allow drivers outside the top ten after 26 races to be included in the 'chase'."

The last time the point system for NASCAR's premier series was altered was in 1975, when the current system, designed to reward consistency, was introduced. This
marks the eleventh time since 1949 that the point system has been changed. The system instituted in '75 remains virtually intact for NASCAR's three national series - aside from the five additional five points for race winners.

In a safety-related move designed to limit the number of damaged cars returning to races merely to accumulate points, NASCAR will also increase minimum-speed
requirements, in lieu of altering the points breakdown for lower-finishing cars.



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