CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’ll be said over and over again in the coming weeks, but this is no longer your father’s NASCAR. It isn’t even the same as it was 10 years ago.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France announced Thursday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Sprint Cup would shift to an elimination-style format that makes winning races the key to qualifying for the Chase as well as winning the series championship.
France gave additional details on the new format following the announcement, saying multiple times that NASCAR fans wanted a format that put as much emphasis as possible on winning races.
“This checked every box that we could have possibly looked at,” France said. “It is going to elevate racing. It is going to make winning the most important thing by a wide margin. It is going to change the strategies. It is going to allow for drivers, if they have a bad race in the current Chase, it is very difficult for them to move on. This will be different. Everything is focused around winning and that is exactly what our fans want.”
Under this format, any driver who wins a race during the first 26 races — the regular season —will qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Chase will include 16 drivers, so if there aren’t 16 race winners the final spots in the Chase will be filled by the highest drivers in the championship standings without a victory. If there are more than 16 winners, the 16 drivers highest in the overall point standings will advance to the Chase.
Once the Chase field is set, four drivers will be eliminated every three races leading up to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, leaving four championship eligible drivers to compete for the title. During each portion of the Chase, if a Chase driver is able to win a race he or she will automatically advance to the next round.
During the finale, the first of the four eligible drivers to cross the finish line will be crowned the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Essentially, NASCAR has attempted to create a playoff format that is similar to the ones used in Major League Baseball, the National Football League or the National Basketball Ass’n.
Fans have voiced their opinion of the new format — both good and bad — in the days ahead of the official announcement. The naysayers didn’t seem to bother France. Instead, France focused on those fans who expressed displeasure with points racing instead of trying to win races.
“We have millions of fans we have some very loud and passionate fans, especially when we change anything. And we understand that,” France said. “The vast majority of the fans that communicated with 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 is just less important.”