In a press release issued Thursday, NASCAR announced changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The new championship format will put greater emphasis on winning races all season, it will expand the current format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field to 16 drivers, and it implements a new advancement format with a battle of the top four for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway come November.
“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 Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “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 new championship format will include:
- A victory in the first 26 races all but guarantees a spot in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup; this will add an unprecedented importance to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race all season.
- The Chase field will expand from 12 to 16 drivers, with those drivers advancing to what now will be known as the NASCAR Chase Grid.
- The number of championship drivers in contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship will decrease after every three Chase races, from 16 drivers to start in the Chase Grid titled Challenger for the Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover races; 12 drivers in the Chase Grid titled Contender for the Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega races; 8 drivers in the Chase Grid titled Eliminator for the Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix races, and 4 drivers in the Chase Grid titled Championship at the finale of Homestead-Miami
- A victory by a championship eligible driver in any Chase race automatically clinches the winning driver a spot in the next Chase round.
- Leaving four drivers to enter the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship finale with a title shot, the highest finisher among those four capturing the prestigious NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Eligibility for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
- The top 15 drivers with the most victories over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the NASCAR Chase Grid, provided they have finished in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race (except in rare circumstances) The 16th Chase position will go to the points leader after race #26 if he/she does not have a victory. In the event that there are 16 or more different winners over 26 races, the only winless driver who can earn a Chase Grid spot would be the point’s leader after 26 races.
- If fewer than 16 different winners in the first 26 races, the remaining Chase Grid positions will go to those winless drivers highest in points. If there are 16 or more winners in the first 26 races, the ties will first be broken by number of wins, followed by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver points.
- The Chase Grid drivers, prior to the first Chase race, will have their points adjusted to 2,000, with three additional bonus points added to their total for each win in the first 26 races, this started during the 2011 season when it was implemented.
- After the third Chase race during the first round called the Challenger Round, if a driver in the Chase Grid wins a Challenger Round race, that driver will automatically advance to the next round. The remaining available position 1-12 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each driver will then have their points reset to 3,000.
- After the sixth Chase race, the third in the Contender Round, likewise if a driver in the top 12 in points wins a race in the Contender Round, that driver will automatically advance to the next round. The remaining available positions 1-8 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each driver will then have their points reset to 4,000.
- After the ninth Chase race, the third in the Eliminator Round, likewise if a driver in the top 8 in points wins a race in the Eliminator Round, that driver will automatically advance to the next round. The remaining available positions 1-4 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each driver will then have their point reset to 5,000.
Drivers who have been eliminated in the Contender and Eliminator Rounds will have their points readjusted. Each eliminated driver will return to the Chase start base of 2,000 (plus any regular season wins bonus points), with their accumulated points starting with race #27 added. This will allow all drivers no longer in contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title to continue to race with the final positions of 5th-16th still available between the remaining 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase contenders.
With the Championship Round, in the 36th and final race of the season, the finale will simply be the highest finisher in that race among the remaining four eligible drivers, bonus points for laps led will not apply in the season finale, the official finishing position alone will decide the champion for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.