NASCAR officials retooling Chase for the Cup playoff format
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 4:48 p.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The perpetually evolving Chase for the Cup underwent another transformation Thursday as NASCAR officials retooled the 2014 postseason format to determine the Sprint Cup champion.
CEO Brian France confirmed weeklong speculation that the new format would resemble playoffs of other professional sports. More importantly, the changes were instituted to attract more potential sponsors to the corporate-driven sport and pump up declining attendance and television ratings.
The 10-race postseason, which began in 2004, will have stages of elimination that culminates with the top four drivers competing for the Cup title in the season finale Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“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,” France said during the final day of the NASCAR Sprint media tour. “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.”
“This is going to dramatically change what we're doing,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “Everyone is already doing all sorts of mental gymnastics to adjust to the new qualifying procedures and the Chase format.”
“There's no question a win is critical to make the Chase,” said Roger Penske, owner of Penske Racing. “If you get a win early, you don't have to worry about the gremlins that sometimes jump up to bite you. When you got to Homestead, the winner-take all is exciting.”
With only a handful of exceptions — including Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch — the drivers largely agreed with the change. While officials insisted the playoff format wasn't designed specifically to narrow the competition gap between traditionally strong teams and smaller stock-car programs, it seemingly bolstered the chances of making the Chase for some such as Furniture Row Racing and Wood Brothers.
“It certainly gives us hope that we can make a legitimate run,” Wood co-owner Len Wood said. “But I do believe you'll see most of the same teams competing for the championship.”
And the same drivers — including six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and 2013 runner-up Matt Kenseth — are again early favorites to capture the title as drivers prepare for the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Johnson, who has won the title under several formats, said he doesn't take seriously talk that NASCAR officials made the changes, in part, to minimize his chances of getting a record-tying seventh title.
“Something big needed to happen, and here it is,” Johnson said. “If it's the right bullet, only time will tell. As I spoke to various NASCAR officials about the correlation between the NASCAR playoff system and the NFL playoff system, the similarities in the statistics are far different.
“I don't think NASCAR is picking on me to try to keep me from winning the championship. NASCAR likes history being made, so this is by no means an attack on the (Hendrick Motorsports) 48.
“There are so many scenarios that can play out,” he added. “It's a huge change, so if this doesn't work I don't know where you go from here. I want it to work so it can create greater interest in the sport.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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