As we all know by now, NASCAR has made quite a few rules changes for the upcoming season. One of those changes may or may not come into play after race No. 26 at Richmond.
Once again, the Chase for the Championship will welcome 12 drivers into the "playoffs." As normal, the top 10 in points will advance into the Chase. This year, however, the final two positions won't necessarily go to the drivers in 11th and 12th in the point standings, respectively.
Instead, the final two spots will go to the two drivers not already locked into the Chase who have the most wins through the first 26 races, provided they are in the top 20 in points.
This rule change could make for some interesting moments throughout the season. I am going to take a look at 8 reasons why this change in particular will make the season and the championship more exciting.
When NASCAR adopted the Chase in 2004, it said that it wanted to have more of an emphasis on winning races to help determine its champion. The season before, Matt Kenseth won the championship with just a single victory on the year, while Ryan Newman finished sixth in the standings, with eight victories.
Then, a few years ago, to further hammer home the notion that wins are important, NASCAR awarded an additional 10 points to the winner of each race. On top of that, once the Chase began, a driver was given 10 bonus points for each win that they had scored in the regular season.
Now, this season, regular season wins may be worth even more than ever. NASCAR is really trying to make wins the focal point of the season. Now drivers can be forgiven for some poor runs during the regular season so long as they are able to find victory lane.
Had this rule been in place last year, Clint Bowyer would have been excluded from the Chase, while Daytona and Indianapolis winner, Jamie McMurray would have had an opportunity to run for the title.
At the end of each race, when drivers who finished in the top 10 are being interviewed, there is usually one phrase that is fairly common, "it was a good points day." That phrase might not carry quite as much weight anymore.
Every driver wants to win every race, but sometimes they just don't have the car to do it with. At that point, they just try to salvage as many points as they possibly can.
Now, as the season gets later, and drivers are fighting to get into the Chase, top 10's and good solid finishes might not matter anymore. Drivers will now be forced to go for the win at all costs or suffer the ramifications of not making the Chase.
This new rule change could very easily allow the opportunity for some new and fresh faces to make a splash in the Chase. Now, any driver that wins can instantly have all of their poor runs washed away when the Chase rolls around.
Two prime examples this rule could really benefit are Ganassi teammates, Jamie McMurray and Juan Montoya. These are two drivers who both found victory lane a season ago but failed to make the Chase due to some very poor runs throughout the first 26 races.
Between the two of them, they have only qualified for the Chase one time. I fully expect both of them to find victory lane again this season and possibly multiple times. However, with all of their inconsistencies, a top-10 points standing is no guarantee.
The new rule will open up a new way for drivers like these two, as well as guys like David Reutimann and maybe even Joey Logano to sneak into the Chase.
Let's throw out a hypothetical scenario just for fun. Let's say that Jamie McMurray repeats as Daytona 500 champion, and then later in the season, he defends his win at the Brickyard as well. But, aside from those two wins, he only manages to finish between 15th and 20th in every other race.
Clint Bowyer, meanwhile, posts zero wins, but has 16 top-10 finishes throughout the first 26 races of the season and sits in 11th place after the Richmond race. Clearly, Bowyer would be well ahead of McMurray points wise, but under the new rules, he would be out in the cold, while McMurray gets to run for a chance at the championship.
While the rule is clearly defined that this could happen, we all know that if it does, questions about the new rule's legitimacy will certainly arise.
And, while this type of controversy might not be wanted by NASCAR, it would no doubt increase interest in what is going on. Let's face it, if there is any sort of controversy, people start to wonder what all the buzz is about, and it may just make more people tune in to see.
This goes hand-in-hand with both an emphasis on winning, as well as the lack of points racing. But, overall, the quality of racing should improve with such a large emphasis on winning. And, the best part about all of this is the racing has already been very good to begin with.
Let's throw out another hypothetical situation. Let's say that going in to Richmond, Matt Kenseth sits 12th in points with zero wins, while Mark Martin and Joey Logano sit 13th and 14th in the points, 300 points behind respectively, with one win apiece.
All of a sudden, the Richmond race takes on an even greater significance. It almost becomes a must win for all three drivers. How great of a race would that be? I think the wild card only makes the already great racing even better.
Whether it's the announcers calling the races on the television or the radio or whether it's the millions of the fans chatting around the water cooler at work on Monday, there is just that much more to talk about with NASCAR now.
Ever since the reported rules changes in NASCAR were first speculated on, there has been a lot of talk about the sport and what to expect from it in the coming season.
As the year goes on, the talk will only intensify. Whether you are in favor of or against the new rules, including the wild card, it has everyone talking. And what better way to try and attract new fans and sponsors than through word of mouth.
In any sport, when the postseason rolls around, the intensity levels of the players, coaches and fans all get cranked up to a new level. This year, with the advent of the wild card, the NASCAR season will seemingly have a playoff atmosphere all year long.
Every race now becomes magnified for each and every driver. Having a good season isn't good enough anymore. And with that kind of pressure being put on drivers week in and week out, it has all the feel of a big post season matchup.
For some fans, myself included, you don't need much of a reason to get excited for race day. But now, the excitement level on race day is elevated to an all-time high. And that can only do wonders for the sport.
Winning the Sprint Cup Championship is obviously the most important thing that any driver can do in the sport. And no matter how you achieve it, winning the championship speaks volumes to your abilities as a race car driver.
Now, with the advent of the wild card, winning the championship should be considered even more of an impressive feat. Theoretically, the Chase will now include more race winners than in the past. And what better way is there to claim a championship than to go through all of the other drivers that are race winners from the season?