Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

NASCAR changes Chase for Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Say goodbye to the NASCAR era when a driver, fresh off a satisfying, top-10 finish, climbs from the car and raves about what a good points day it was.

Winning is all that matters under the latest and most radical change to the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship.

NASCAR's overhauled championship format announced Thursday is a 16-driver, winner-take-all elimination system designed to reward "the most worthy, battle-tested" driver at the end of the season.

"Riding around and being pleased because the (previous) format rewards consistency, those days are going to be pretty much over," NASCAR chairman Brian France said.

The field, expanded from 12 to 16 drivers, will be cut to a final four through eliminations after every three races of the 10-race Chase. The remaining four drivers will go into the season finale with an equal chance to win the title: The first of the four to cross the finish line will be crowned Cup champion.

"No math. No bonus points. It's as simple as it gets," France said.

It's the fourth change to either the points or championship format since France created the Chase in 2004. For 28 years prior to the Chase, consistency reigned as the champion was the driver with the most points at the end of the season.

That ended a year after Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title with one victory, and France began his pursuit of creating "Game 7 moments." Along the way, he has pushed his agenda of wanting aggressive drivers chasing wins.

He'll get that under the new format, which makes settling for points pretty much pointless.

Why? Because a win in the 26-race regular season virtually guarantees a berth in the Chase. Then, eliminations begin, and a driver can guarantee a trip to the next round with a victory.

In August, Brad Keselowski chased Kyle Busch around Watkins Glen and declined to aggressively move his rival out of the way. Keselowski settled for second, racing for a good points day and declining to inflame his touchy relationship with Busch. But in doing so, he failed to win a regular-season race and missed the Chase, making him ineligible to defend his title.

Under the new format, a winless Keselowski would have no choice in that same situation but to bang fenders with Busch and go after the win.

France said he expects contact among cars.

"Obviously there are some limits, but that's always part of NASCAR, to have some version of contact late in the race," he said. "Will this bring more of that? I'm sure it will."

"This took guts, this is a big deal," said team owner Joe Gibbs, who saw his three Cup drivers combine for a series-best 12 wins last season.

Busch, who won four races and finished fourth in the standings, wasn't as effusive.

"I don't like to always be the Debbie Downer … but some of the things they are doing, I'm not in agreement with," he said, declining to be specific because he spoke before NASCAR unveiled the format.

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