Sunday, May 20, 2018
Sports

NASCAR Drivers embrace Sprint Cup change, premium on winning

DAYTONA BEACH — Exactly what results the new Chase format will bring by season's end remain to be seen, but most drivers at NASCAR's annual media day believe the vast changes are a good thing for the sport.

"I like the direction of the changes that have been made," veteran driver Jeff Gordon said Thursday. "It's win or nothing, and that's the attitude you want to have."

The new rules put greater emphasis on winning races all season and expand the current Chase for the Championship field from 12 to 16 drivers. The changes also implement a new round-by-round advancement format. A victory in one of the first 26 races likely will guarantee a driver a berth in the 10-race Chase.

"I think it can help anyone," Kasey Kahne said. "It can help somebody who is very consistent, it can help someone who wins some races and has some bad luck."

Defending Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson said ultimately everything still comes down to one thing: winning. But he believes change is inevitable.

"When we look around at sports, everything's changing," Johnson said. "The Olympics look far different than they used to. NFL is considering change. All sports. The world is changing. Our viewership is changing, so the sport has to change. I'm not sure if this is the exact … right thing. Only time will tell. But I do support NASCAR, and I do commend them on making a bold change, and I know it's going to bring excitement, especially those final 10 races."

Gordon out? Gordon, a four-time series champion, reiterated that he will strongly consider retiring if he wins the championship this year. One reason why? He has never won the Sprint Cup. The four trophies he has at home are from the days when NASCAR was sponsored by Winston, not Sprint, and he wants the newer name on his final trophy.

"I want that before my career is over," said Gordon, 42. "If that happened, that would be all the reason I need to say this is it. I'm done. Go out on a high note."

Familiar faces: Although no one knows how the new Chase format will work in practice, drivers expect the usual suspects to be among the four drivers with a chance to win the title going into the season finale at Homestead.

"It's no secret Jimmie Johnson's probably got a pretty good shot at it," A.J. Allmendinger said. "And if you take off of last year's slate, Matt (Kenseth) has probably got a pretty good shot at it, too."

A series title would be Johnson's seventh, tying him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in NASCAR history.

"I think as the year goes on and if we are able to make the Chase and get down to the race at Homestead, that's when it will be top of mind," he said. "Right now it's so far away and such a process to get there that I haven't put much thought into it."

HAMLIN'S FRESH START: You'll be hard-pressed to find a driver more ready for the 2014 season than Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who was born in Tampa but moved when he was 2, is coming off a tough season. He was involved in a wreck with Joey Logano in March in which he suffered multiple fractures in his lower back. He missed four races and eventually had eight DNFs for the year.

On Thursday, Hamlin said he's thrilled to put last year behind him and is looking forward to this season.

"I write-off the end of last year to I didn't feel well, and we were really out of the box with some of the stuff we had in my car, engines and stuff like that," he said. "We weren't going to be that competitive no matter what, no matter who was driving the car. So this year is a fresh start for that. We're all back on the same level playing field."

Welcome: AutoTrader.com is entering NASCAR with two different teams and its Kelley Blue Book brand. AutoTrader.com has joined Team Penske as the primary sponsor for Logano at the July race at New Hampshire. The online company also will be an associate sponsor on Logano's No. 22 Ford for the entire season. Kelley Blue Book has joined Hendrick Motorsports as the primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Sonoma in June and as an associate sponsor the rest of the season. Kelley Blue Book is a subsidiary of AutoTrader.com.

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