NASCAR has unveiled a brand new format for the Chase, putting greater emphasis on race wins.
The new system sees the end-of-season Chase, now known as the NASCAR Chase Grid, expand to include 16 drivers. In order to qualify for the Chase Grid, a driver must win one of the first 26 races of the year, hence a victory all but guarantees a spot in the 16 car showdown.
During the chase itself, however, the number of drivers still in contention for the title will drop every three rounds with four drivers eliminated each time. Therefore, 16 cars will enter the chase, after three races, 12 will remain, eight after six races and four after the ninth race, creating a four car shootout at the season finale.
These ‘segments’ of the Chase will be known as the Challenger Round (Rounds 27-29 of the Sprint Cup), the Contender Round (Rounds 30-32) and the Eliminator Round (Rounds 33-35). The final race of the year will be known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. A win in a Chase race will guarantee a spot in the next round of three races. Points will be reset after each Round to 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 respectively. Once a driver is eliminated, their points will be reset to the Chase Grid-start of 2,000 (plus any bonuses from regular season wins) and their accumulated points from round 27 onwards, allowing the battle from fifth to sixteenth to continue right up to the final race of the year.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship race will feature a First-to-the-Finish ruling, with no bonus points being awarded for leading laps. This means that the result of the Sprint Cup standings will be decided on finishing position alone.
The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races will qualify for the Chase Grid, as long as they have finished within the top 30 in the points and, except in rare circumstances, have attempted to qualify for every race. The 16th entrant to the Chase Grid will be the points leader after race 26 if they do not have a race win. In the event of there being more than 16 race winners over the year, the only winless driver eligible for the Chase Grid will be the points leader.
If there are fewer than 16 different winners in the first 26 races, then the remaining Chase Grid positions will go to the winless drivers highest in points. If there are 16 or more winning drivers, then the tie will be broken with race wins, if the result is still tied then driver points will decide who makes the Chase Grid.
“We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, 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,” said NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. “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.”