01 February 2014

Breaking down the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format

The rumors have run abound over the last few weeks, but they became official on Thursday as NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France announced the biggest changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup format since its inception back in 2004. With it comes a greater emphasis on wins, eliminations whittling down the Chase field and one race for all the marbles. Let's break it down.

The Chase field will be expanded for now the third time during its history, and now to 16 drivers. Those drivers will be comprised of the points leader at the end of the second Richmond race, the 26th race of the year and thus the final race of the "regular season," with the remaining 15 spots going to the drivers that won races during the first 26 races while attempting every start and finishing in the top 30 in points. If there are less than 15 drivers that won races, the remaining spots will be filled the top drivers in points without a victory. If there are more than 15 drivers with wins, those highest in points will advance. 

Now what is the big change to the Chase are the addition of four rounds and eliminations. The Challenger Round will feature all 16 drivers, with three bonus points granted to a driver for each win, vying for the 12 spots in the Contender Round. This will entail the races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover. The Chase drivers that won in the Challenger Round will automatically advance, while the remaining spots will be set by the points after the third race. All drivers that advance will have their points reset to 3,000.

The Contender Round will feature the 12 advancing drivers vying for the eight spots in the Eliminator Round. This entails the races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega. As in the Challenger Round, the Chase drivers that win will advance while the remaining spots will be set by the points. The drivers that advance will have their points reset to 4,000.

The Eliminator Round will feature the eight remaining drivers vying for the four spots in the Sprint Cup Championship. This round entails the races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. As in the previous rounds, the Chase drivers that win will advance while the remaining spots will be set by the points. The drivers that advance will have their points reset to 5,000.

The Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami will feature a Final Four of sorts vying for the title, with the highest finishing driver winning the big prize.

The good folks at NASCAR.com put up a little FAQ, a nifty graphic and a hypothetical bracket to further explain the big changes to the Chase.

Now you will of course have the traditionalists who have always opposed the Chase that will oppose these changes, but I for one have thought that the Chase was a good idea that made the race to the championship much more excitement than it generally had been. However, I was a part of the chorus of NASCAR fans that were clamoring (if you will) for changes to the Chase.

Therefore, I will say that I like most of these changes. I love the added emphasis on victories, which helps make every race very important, including the early races. Even as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would have won the title if this points system was in place last year without a victory, I think that victories are going to be what will (probably) help drivers win titles, instead of the dreaded points racing that the folks running the sport have been trying to get rid of for years.

I also like the elimination system as well as the races to make the cuts will make the Chase races even more exciting (particularly that elimination race at Talladega), and will require drivers to be on their game every year, with no opportunity for a misstep.

However, the one thing I am not a fan of is that the fact that the entire championship being decided in one race. NASCAR is the one sport that really is not conducive for a Game 7, even as plenty of them have arrived over the years. But those final races have occurred organically. I think that a better system would have been a final two or three races to decide it all, maybe one less elimination then to fit it, because the one final race seems too little for a 36-race season.

That said, I do think this is a positive step for the sport and at the right time and I am very excited as to see how these new rules will affect this upcoming Sprint Cup Series season.

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