Parks Pit Report SPECIAL REPORT: NASCAR Overhauls Chase for the Sprint Cup

The 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup takes on a dramatically different look and format to determine the champion.
The 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup takes on a dramatically different look and format to determine the champion.

The 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup takes on a dramatically different look and format to determine the champion.

NASCAR is always looking to make headlines entering into a new season, whether it’s on or off the track.  However, never before have there been so many rumors as to what may happen entering the 2014 season.  Now, the rumors can be put to rest because the biggest one of all has been made a reality.

On Thursday afternoon, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France announced a complete overhaul of the Chase for the Cup beginning with the 2014 season.  This is the fourth installment of the Chase since it debuted back in 2004, and features the most dramatic changes to date.

“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,” said France  “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.
“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.”

That being said, here’s NASCAR’s overhaul of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Afterward, you all will hear my take on the new format, both good and bad.

2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup

The Chase for the Sprint Cup is expanding from the previous 12-driver field to a new 16-driver field, with eliminations happening after the third, sixth and ninth Chase events.

ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

  • The top-15 drivers through the first 26 races of the season with the most wins will automatically qualify for the new Chase Grid, provided they are in the top-30 in points and have attempted to qualify for each race.  The 16th spot will be filled by the points leader should he/she not have achieved a win in that time frame.  If more than 16 drivers win a race over the first 26 races, the only winless driver that can qualify for the Chase will be the points leader.
  • If fewer than 16 drivers win a race within the first 26 races, the remaining spots in the Chase Grid will be filled by the winless drivers highest in points.  If more than 16 drivers win a race, the first tie-breaker will be number of wins, followed by positioning in driver standings.
  • All 16 drivers in the Chase Grid will have their points reset to 2,000, as was implemented in 2011 when the current points system was introduced.  All victories will account for three bonus points in the seeding.

CHASE STRUCTURE:  Four-Rounds of Elimination

  • Following the third, sixth and ninth race in the Chase, the field of eligible Chase drivers will be reduced from 16 to 12, then to eight and finally four entering the final race of the season.
    • ROUND ONE-Challenger Round:  The first round of the Chase consists of the races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover.  During this time, any driver competing in the Chase Grid that wins one of the three races is automatically qualified for the next round.  The remaining remaining available positions from 1-12 will be filled based on points, with positions 13-16 eliminated.  The top-12 drivers will have their points reset to 3,000.
    • ROUND TWO-Contender Round:  The second round of the Chase covers the races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega.  As with the previous round, any driver still competing for the Chase that wins a race in this round automatically moves into the next round.  The remaining available positions from 1-8 will be filled based on points.  Additionally, positions 9-12 will have their points reset back to 2,000 but will have bonus points from their regular season wins plus all points earned beginning in the Chase added in.  The remaining eligible drivers will have their points reset to 4,000.
    • ROUND THREE-Eliminator Round:  The third round in the Chase consists of the races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.  As with the previous two rounds, any eligible driver that wins a race in this round will automatically advance to the final round, with the remaining available positions 1-4 filled based on points.  As with the last round, positions 5-8 will be eliminated and those drivers will have their points reset to 2,000, with bonus points for wins during the regular season and all additional points from the Chase added in.  The remaining four competitors will have their points reset to 5,000.
    • ROUND FOUR-Championship Round:  The final round of the Chase will again be held at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.  In this round, bonus points for leading a lap, leading the most laps or winning the race do not count.  The driver that finishes the highest in the race will win the championship.  Only the official finishing position will determine the champion.

Alright, with all that being said, this format has good and bad ideas.  Here’s my take on both.

GOOD:  It puts winning again at a premium, but at the same time it puts winning as the lead requirement to win the championship.  Teams now have extra incentive to go out and put on the best race possible, in essence eliminating the idea of just “points racing” and also takes away the concept of helping a teammate get a better finishing position, manipulating the finish as it was put.  Drivers and teams now must run for the win because now a win means that you’re in.  At the same time, teams that are close to winning still have incentive to get as many points as possible, knowing there’s a strong chance that 16 different drivers winning in a 26-race span is very difficult to do.

It still means that the best will rise to the top, and when everything is on the line it means that it could lead to an all-out battle for that one remaining spot to move on.

That’s really what fans want, is a battle right to the end where that final position could mean moving to the next round of competition, or knowing the championship hopes are done long before they begun.

BAD:  As much as NASCAR wants to put the emphasis on winning, the idea of during the Chase a driver that is in that position automatically moves on is not smart.  Drivers are already getting the most points when they win anyway, so of course the position they are in will improve right away with a victory.  A driver could enter the first round in 16th, and then win a race and in essence jump right into the top-12 and have a significant lead on the drivers behind him/her.

France says NASCAR has been working on possible restructure now for three years, in essence since they introduced the “Wild Card” concept in 2011.  All they have done is complicate a system that fans, teams and drivers had gotten used to, and bring about more questions than answers.  The old system still put emphasis on winning, and winning both during the regular season and in the Chase.  In 2011, Tony Stewart didn’t win at all during the first 26 races, but when it mattered most went on to win half the races, and yet still tied for the title.  But, he won those races when it mattered most.

In 2012, Brad Keselowski won races both during the regular season and early in the Chase, but ran strong the rest of the time and held his own against Chase veteran Jimmie Johnson.  It helped him win the championship in thrilling fashion.  Then last year, it was a battle both in the regular season and the Chase between Johnson and Matt Kenseth that came down to the final race, and in the end Johnson won his sixth title, but the battle between the two lasted the entire year.

Why mess with a system that worked…it makes no sense.  Although the elimination idea is good, the idea of a win automatically moves a driver on is just obvious…it’s maximum points, of course that driver is gonna move on because a win moves them up in the standings.

I will not say this overhaul is going to be good or bad as a whole, because it’s yet to be used.  I guess that’s something I and all the race fans in the area can decide once the 2014 campaign is over.  Strap in everyone, the Chase for the Cup just got rather interesting.

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