NASCAR's championship format is undergoing a major overhaul.
On Thursday, Jan. 30, NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France announced significant changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format during the sport's "State of the Sport" press conference.
NASCAR made the announcement official on its website and provided an infographic of how the new Chase will work:
The four rounds of the new 10-race Chase will be called the Challenger Round, Contender Round, Eliminator Round and Championship Finale. After every three races, NASCAR will eliminate four drivers until crowning a champion.
NASCAR will now have what boils down to an actual playoff format. Under the current format, each driver that made the Chase had a chance to compete down until the final race.
Are these new changes good for NASCAR?
The Challenger Round will consist of the 16 drivers that get in—another huge change from previous years—competing in the first three races. After eliminating the four lowest-ranked drivers, the 12 remaining drivers will battle to move on in the three-race Contender Round.
In the three-race Eliminator Round, the final eight drivers will compete to get into the Championship Round, which will feature just four drivers contending for the Sprint Cup.
The format places a higher importance on winning races throughout the season and while in the Chase.
France made the situation very clear when it comes down to the final round of the Chase events, according to ESPN's Marty Smith:
France: Final event: No math. First of four drivers to cross the finish line will determine NASCAR champion.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) January 30, 2014
He also spoke about how the new format increases the excitement for fans, via NASCAR on ESPN:
"Everything is focused around winning, which is exactly what our fans want," says Brian France. #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) January 30, 2014
Michael Waltrip, a current driver and co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, appears to love the changes:
France spoke to the fact that the changes could draw in new supporters and force teams to work harder throughout races:
France says this format "is appealing to everybody."— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) January 30, 2014
France: This will force teams to take greater risks. You're going to have to.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) January 30, 2014
Though the new championship format is perhaps enough for fans to digest before the season starts with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, more changes appear imminent, as NASCAR president Mike Helton hinted:
Helton says more announcements to come in a week or so, regarding new rules/regulations and transparency.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) January 30, 2014
With the new Chase format starting this season and the Daytona 500 just weeks away, it's clear that the changes will affect the drivers from the very start. Placing a higher premium on winning could make for an even more interesting first race of the season on a superspeedway.
Buckle up, NASCAR fans. This season could be the most exciting one yet.
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