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NASCAR has changed the format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The changes to the format were announced by NASCAR chairman Brian France at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday.
The Charlotte Observer first reported that the change was coming.
NASCAR expanded the Chase field from 12 drivers to 16. The 16 Chase spots will go to drivers who have won at least once in the first 26 races and are in the top 30 in points.
If more than 16 drivers win, then only the drivers that are highest in the standings will make the Chase. If less than 16 drivers win, then the remaining positions will be set based on the points standings.
Only twice in the history of NASCAR has there been more than 15 winners in the Cup Series, happening in 1961 and 2003. The drivers that make the Chase will have their points reset to 2,000, and will be seeded based on bonus points for wins.
The Chase will feature three rounds of three races each and the season finale. Four drivers will be eliminated after each round. If a Chase driver wins a race during a round, they will automatically advance to the next round. Twelve drivers will advance after the first round, eight after the second round, and four after the third round. Points will be reset before the start of each round. In the season finale four drivers will be eligible for the championship, with the highest finishing driver winning the championship, according to NASCAR.com.
The Chase changes are the biggest and most drastic changes since the Chase was created in 2004. France said that NASCAR made these changes for three reasons. The three reasons are, to place a greater emphasis on winning, make the championship format simpler and easier to understand, and to put more drivers in the Chase, according to Sporting News.
However, the main reason is NASCAR is trying to be like other sports and France’s desire for a “Game 7” moment.
"We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, plus 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," France said. "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."
The Chase changes aren’t the only change this year though. NASCAR will have group qualifying this year and made changes to the cars to improve the racing on intermediate tracks. It will be interesting to see how successful these changes are.
image: Photo by HHP/Brian Lawdermilk - Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR/image.net