The final off-weekend for NASCAR this season sets up a tough 12-week stretch of races spanning from the east coast to the center of the United States. It goes from as north as Illinois to as far south as Florida. 10 of those races will make for the final run to the championship.
When the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup begins this year at Chicagoland Speedway, 16 drivers will be competing for the right to be one of the final four standing to go after the title.
As we saw one year ago, the final 10 races brought out the emotion, the frustration, and happiness all in a matter of moments.
This year we have drivers who have won many races, a few that have a championship or two in their careers, while others are looking to get their first to set on the mantle at home. We even have a few drivers who missed races for the start of the season, and yet came back to just have the opportunity to compete for the championship. The 16-driver field will be made up of the best competitors, and teams, that will go after one title.
With this being an off-week, let’s take a look at how the Chase will work, and also how NASCAR will help distinguish those Chase drivers when they are on the track starting September 20.
CHALLENGER ROUND-16 Drivers
Once the final race of the regular season concludes, the drivers that have won a race and are in the top-30 in the standings will make it into the initial round for the Chase. To fill out the field, the drivers that do not have a win but are highest in the standings will make up the remainder of the field. All drivers get their points reset to 2000, but then the wins become vital. Each win within the first 26 races counts for three bonus points, and more wins equal a higher seed in the Chase grid.
Through the first three Chase races in this round, which will take place at Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover, if a Chase driver wins a race, it’s an automatic pass into the second round.
Still, running strong will be key, even with the reset, because trying to make it into the next round proved to be critical a season ago. Each race was won by a driver within the Chase, meaning three of the positions were locked up right away heading into the next round. After three races, the lowest four drivers are officially eliminated, but it also means yet another reset.
CONTENDER ROUND-12 Drivers
Now we get down to the dirty dozen, all ready to take to the next three races with some vengeance in their eyes. Those 12 drivers that make it to this round get their points reset to 3000, however unlike when everyone entered the Challenger Round and had their wins determine the seeding, wins don’t matter now. Everyone will have 3000 points, which means everyone is tied entering the second round.
This round, which is comprised of Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega, has the same concept on wins as it did the previous round. Chase driver takes a victory, they move on automatically into the next round. We saw when Kevin Harvick won at Charlotte, it took a lot of weight off his shoulders because then the chess match that the plate track always is didn’t matter anymore, because he was locked in.
But, that chess match also showed some heartache as for Hendrick Motorsports, three of it’s four drivers were eliminated. That meant the dominant organization had one opportunity to make the title round, and still had three more races to make it.
Once the checkered flag waves at Talladega, the next reset goes down.
ELIMINATOR ROUND-8 Drivers
Personally I like the name of this round as it truly is an elimination round. Eight drivers that make it out of Talladega in the top half of the Chase Grid get their points reset to 4000, while the drivers that were eliminated get theirs set back to 2000 and have the points earned from the weeks prior added back in to determine positioning.
Just like the Contender Round, everyone is even entering this round, so points are at a premium.
After seeing how emotions ran high between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski last year during this round, anything can happen. The three races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix showed just how hard it was to make it into the championship, especially when one incident not only took out one driver, but two, and ended up with some bloody knuckles and lip.
At the same time, drivers not in the Chase took two of the three wins during this round, taking away opportunities for those drivers trying to lock in for the final round.
Once Phoenix concludes, we are down to four, and it also is down to one race.
CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND-4 Drivers
Here we are, the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Four drivers are ready to go after a championship. Those four drivers get their points reset to 5000, while the four eliminated get sent back to the 2000-point bracket, and have their points added back in for the final standings.
But unlike the previous nine races, or even the previous 35 races, leading laps doesn’t matter. Leading the most laps doesn’t matter. In fact, bonus points don’t even matter.
In this round, four drivers have 400 miles to see who is the best. Because at the end of the race, when the final checkered flag waves on the season, the first Chase competitor to cross the line, whether it’s in first or even if it’s in 40th, will be the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. Last year, all four Chase drivers that made it to this point ran hard, and strong, the entire night. When it mattered most, the No. 4 team of Kevin Harvick made the right moves, and it got him the race win, and the championship.
One difference from last year, the number decal on the roof will remain the team colors instead of the Chase yellow. Teams agreed having such a bright color on the roof, depending on the look of the car, made it hard to see for spotters. So this year, the yellow design will go from the roof of the car to the spoiler.
Just like a year ago, the front valance by the splitter will carry the Sprint yellow color, along with the windshield header that carries the driver’s name. The cars will also carry a Chase decal on the sponsor panel behind the front tires.
So everyone, get ready, there’s only two more races till the Chase Grid is officially set. We’re getting down to it, and now you know how the Chase is set up, and where to find those Chase drivers once the battle for the championship begins.
Here we go!!