NASCAR Drivers Talk Format & Points

During annual NASCAR Media Tour

Chase Elliott (Kent Steele photo)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The major topic of discussion during the first official day of the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday was NASCAR’s new race format that was announced Monday evening.

Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s most recent Cup Series champion, was the first to speak about the new format. New formats are something Johnson is accustom to as the now seven-time series champion has won his championships under multiple versions of what was previously called the Chase.

“We still go to Homestead, that’s very similar for that event itself. How you get there is a bit different,” Johnson said when discussing the new playoff format. “The big takeaway I have is that when you put all the smart people in the room and let everybody decide what it could look like and what it should look like from TV, owners, NASCAR, drivers, I think that is a smart move.

“It’s all about winning and finishing the best that you can. It doesn’t matter if it is the Duels (at Daytona) or where it is. There is incentive to go out there and perform. As a competitor it is tough to say that is going to change much of what I do, but I know there will be opportunities where that point (for winning a stage) matters to someone.”

Johnson also put to rest the idea that the format was changed in order to prevent him from winning an eighth championship.

“I’m not bigger than NASCAR,” Johnson said. “There is no way they are changing the rules based on the 48 (team). The sport is a lot bigger than one person.”

Chase Elliott, who is entering his sophomore Cup Series season with Hendrick Motorsports, said as long as the format creates entertainment for the fans, he’s good with it.

“The way I see it is if I go to watch something I watch it because I find it entertaining as I would hope people would when they watch races,” Elliott said. “If it is going to make it more entertaining, then that’s great. I don’t think it really matters what audience we’re trying to go for. If the race is more entertaining I think it is going to attract people and I certainly think this format has the ability to do that.”

The new format NASCAR announced Monday won’t be used only in the Cup Series, it will be used in the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series as well. Brennan Poole, who will be entering his second XFINITY Series season with Chip Ganassi Racing, said the idea of bringing bonus points with you through the playoffs appealed to him.

“I think it gives an opportunity to a lot of drivers like myself to gain some bonus points,” Poole said. “You win one of those stages and the point stays with you through the Chase so you can give yourself a little bit more of a cushion for when the playoffs start. I’m pretty excited about that.”

Landon Cassill, who drives for the low-budget Front Row Motorsports team, said he thinks the change in format will force crew chiefs to re-think mid-race strategy calls.

“I think this is a big change. I think the way our crew chiefs and race engineers strategize a 500-mile race is going to change as we know it,” Cassill said. “I think you’re going to see the field flip multiple times in these races over the course of a year. I would be willing to bet our first impression of this new format in Daytona, you’re going to see a huge group of cars taking a risk and pitting on their own on lap 43 and getting off sequence and I think you’re going to see the field off sequence a lot this season.”