NASCAR is planning a vast restructuring of the points system in its premier Sprint Cup Series that would greatly emphasize winning races and feature eliminations in its Chase playoff system, according to multiple sources briefed on the plan this week.
In addition to expanding the Chase field from 12 to 16 drivers, a win in the season’s first 26 races would virtually ensure a driver entry into the championship Chase. If there were more than 16 winners, the 16 with the most wins and highest in points would gain entry.
Once the Chase field was set, a round of eliminations — similar to the NCAA Tournament — would take place after the third, sixth and ninth race of the Chase, culminating with the championship determined by a winner-takes-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Under the proposed system — which could still change before an expected announcement later this month — winning would become virtually a necessity to make the Chase and win the championship.
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In an interview on Motor Racing Network this month, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said he was “not satisfied” with the current points structure.
“We think we can make some tweaks that continue to incentivize risk-taking, racing harder and so on,” he said.
NASCAR vice president and chief communications officer Brett Jewkes would not confirm the changes shared with The Charlotte Observer but offered the following statement:
“NASCAR has begun the process of briefing key industry stakeholders on potential concepts to evolve its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format. This dialogue is the final phase of a multi-year process that has included the review of extensive fan research, partner and industry feedback and other data-driven insights,” he said.
“NASCAR has no plans to comment further until the stakeholder discussions are complete. We hope to announce any potential changes for the 2014 season to our media and fans very soon.”
According to sources briefed on the proposal Friday, 16 teams would make the Chase, with positions first going to full-time series contenders who won a race through the first 26 races of the season. Should 16 drivers not win races, the remaining slots would be filled by the drivers highest in points.
Once the field is set for the Chase and re-seeded, the four lowest in points among Chase contenders would be eliminated from title contention after the third, sixth and ninth race in the Chase.
The four remaining contenders would enter the season finale reset with the same amount of points. The driver who earned the most points in the season finale would be the series champion.
Participants have been told changes could still occur in the format, but the proposal addressed last week was the direction NASCAR was now seemingly headed.
NASCAR has used a consistency-based points structure for the most part since its inception, determining the season champion by a season-long accumulation of points through the 2003 season.
The 10-race Chase format to determine the series champion was adapted in 2004 and has been used with some variations — including bonuses for wins — ever since.