NASCAR made a groundbreaking announcement that forever changed the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The new changes were needed in the eyes of many, particularly after the charges of collusion and abusing the old system which surfaced last season. They have made revolutionary revisions to its current playoff format. The Chase will now feature sixteen drivers, and the ten races will serve as a playoff tournament, eliminating four drivers after every three races. At the finale in Homestead, Florida, four drivers will still remain in contention for the Sprint Cup.
Up until 2012, twelve drivers qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. After twenty-six races in NASCAR’s regular season, the twelve drivers that accumulated the most points would qualify for the postseason or Chase for the Sprint Cup. The postseason would call for a reset of points among the twelve qualified drivers and consisted of ten races. The driver with the most points at the end of the ten week schedule would earn the championship crown.
The previous version of America’s top-tier racing league’s playoff format was scrutinized for a lack of excitement. With the exception of a showdown between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart in 2011, the Chase also saw domination by Jimmie Johnson, who won four straight cups. In 2013, thirteen drivers qualified for the Chase when an infamous scandal was carried out by Clint Bowyer. In an effort to assist his teammate, Martin Truex Jr, qualify for the postseason, Bowyer intentionally spun out causing a caution flag to rise in the final seven laps. Essentially, this afforded the MWR teammates an opportunity to manipulate the outcomes in their favor.
Once this scandal was unearthed, sanctions were filed and measures were taken. For the first time in history, thirteen drivers entered the post-season and the playoff format went in to shambles. Now, NASCAR has provided a new, obviously needed, structure for the playoffs. The point structure remains the same: 43 points for a win (42 for second, 41 for third…down to 1 for 43rd place), 1 point for a lap lead and 1 point for most laps lead.
2014 NASCAR Chase Qualification Criteria
- Any driver that wins one of the twenty-six regular season races will qualify for the postseason as long as they finish in the top 30 of points and qualify for every points race in the regular season. Essentially, if a driver does not start a race or does not qualify for a race, they can still qualify for the postseason by virtue of point qualification, the automatic bid is nullified.
- If more than sixteen drivers win a race (which has only happened twice in NASCAR history), the drivers with the most wins would be awarded the first positions, the remaining drivers who have won filtered out by overall point total.
- If less than sixteen drivers win a race, the remaining wildcard drivers will qualify based on total points of the season. As we can recall in 2011, Tony Stewart won 5 regular seasons to Carl Edwards 1. Edwards was dominant in the point totals all year and Stewart was lagging in the rear. His 5 wins earned him a wildcard berth in to the Chase where he and Edwards dominated. However Stewart defeating Edwards resulted in a tie, the tiebreaker was Stewart’s 5 wins.
2014 NASCAR Chase Playoff Format
- The point total for all qualifying drivers is reset to 2,000 points with the same point system implemented during regular season format.
- The first leg (Challenger Round) consists of the first three races in Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover. Any driver that wins any of these three races automatically move on to the next round.
- The remaining drivers with the highest point total, advance to the “Contender Round” which are races 4-6. 12 total drivers advance to the “Contender Round”. The points are now reset yet again to 3,000 points. These races will take place in Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega.
- The same criteria are applied here in the next 3 races. The winner of these respective races will automatically advance to the “Eliminator Round”. The drivers that remain with the highest point total accumulation will advance to the next stage. A total of 8 drivers advance to the Eliminator Round.
- The Eliminator Round (Races 7-9) take place in Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. Points are now reset to 4,000. The winners of these races will advance to the “Sprint Cup Championship”. The driver or drivers that remain with the highest point total accumulation will advance to the next stage. A total of 4 drivers advance to the “Sprint Cup Championship”.
- The Sprint Cup Champion is crowned in Homestead, Florida. The four qualifying drivers will have their points reset to 5,000. The winner of the race or the driver with the best finish, wins the championship.
As America’s favorite sport has enacted these needed changes to the playoff structure, it has become a less predictable format, for sure. With a slew of new provisions and a systematic narrowing of the field, the 2014 season ought to be a great one. The much-anticipated first NASCAR race of the season will set the tone for a nearly year-long march toward the Chase. Drivers will start their engines and battle for the checkered flag at Daytona International Speedway come Sunday February 23 to begin the long drive toward Homestead.
By Keith Fuchs