NASCAR announced yet another change to its championship format on Jan. 30. It seems that NASCAR has had to update how it chooses a champion every few years, as forming the "Chase for the Cup" expanding its field and changing its points system hasn't been quite enough. Now its latest scramble for lasting, exciting change includes expanding the field to 16 drivers, putting more emphasis on winning and eliminating drives every few weeks.
As NASCAR has done since 2004, the last 10 races of the season will determine its annual champion. Yet starting this year, the Chase for the Cup will include the top 16 drivers after the first 26 races, instead of 12. In addition, every single driver who wins a race and is in the top 30 in points will make the field, along with the top drivers who haven't.
For the first time, however, there will be an elimination format added to the Chase. After the first three races of the 10-race competition, the bottom four drivers will be knocked out. The bottom four among those who are left will be eliminated after the sixth race, and then only the top four racers will be eligible for the title before the season finale at Homestead.
NASCAR keeps trying and trying to draw out suspense over the championship until the final lap of the season. But the only time it has really been that close was in 2011, when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished tied and Stewart won it all by having more victories. Other than that, the Sprint Cup champion has still often pulled away with some time to spare -- and has usually been Jimmie Johnson.
College football is the only other major sport that's had to make so many changes in deciding a champion. Of course, college football dragged its feet on the BCS for years, until finally approving a four-team playoff for next year. NASCAR's willingness to change and be flexible is more admirable by comparison, yet the fact it has had to alter its format so many times is less flattering.
Are these the tweaks that will finally last for NASCAR, and make the Chase for the Cup thrilling to the very end? If there are no more alterations for about three or four more years, it might be a promising sign.