DAYTONA BEACH — Looking to end the frustration and confusion that comes when caution flags come out late in its races, NASCAR announced Thursday that it is shifting to an unlimited green-white-checkered finish protocol and establishing an "overtime line" to determine the winner.
The line will vary by track. If the race leader passes the line on the first lap under green before a caution comes out, it will be considered a valid green-white-checkered attempt. If a caution comes out before the leader passes the overtime line on the first lap under green, it will not be a valid attempt. The race continues until a valid attempt.
NASCAR previously had a limit of three tries to complete the race.
NASCAR hopes the change will eliminate the angst that has come with late cautions. At Talladega Superspeedway last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't get a chance to challenge leader Joey Logano into the first turn because the race was called after a multicar wreck behind them. The second-place finish caused Earnhardt to be eliminated from the Chase for the Championship.
"Let's line them up and turn them loose, give them a chance to race through at least the first couple of turns and halfway down the backstretch before it's an official race finish," Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. "And if they can't get that far before the yellow comes out, let's line them up again and again and again until it's a clean run."
NASCAR also officially announced that the Sprint Cup field will be reduced to 40 drivers from 43 because of its new charter model that guarantees a spot in the field for 36 cars. It also detailed plans for Daytona 500 qualifying:
• The 36 teams with a charter earn an automatic spot in the field.
• There will be four open spots up for grabs.
• The highest-finishing noncharter teams in the two duel races will earn a spot in the Daytona 500 field.
• The other two open spots will be determined by pole qualifying.
• Qualifying sets the front row for the 500 and the lineup for the duel races.
• If weather wipes out qualifying and the duel races, combined practice speeds will determine the four noncharter teams.
TODAY'S THE DAY: The NASCAR Sprint Cup season officially opens today at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the Feb. 21 season-opening Daytona 500. The first race is Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited. Matt Kenseth won last year's wreck-filled exhibition race. The 25-driver field is made up of 2015 pole winners and Chase drivers, former Sprint Unlimited winners and Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full time last year, and the top remaining drivers in the standings.