NASCAR's Chase takes drastic turns
Changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Championship have been anticipated and rumored. One thing that I've called, screamed, yelled, and yes, begged for is for wins during the regular season to count for more towards the Chase. It isn't enough to be consistent. And, yes, I am a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who got into the Chase last year without a win.
The new Chase format is based on wins. The Chase entry has been expanded to 16 drivers, at least for the opening rounds.
Let's start at the beginning.
During the regular season, if you win a race, you are pretty much guaranteed a berth in the playoffs. Positions 1-15 will be those drivers with wins, with the one with the most wins taking the top spot. Position 16 will reward consistency. So, for the driver who remains at the top of the points race, but has no win, a berth in the Chase is definitely there. Also, a driver who gets a win must also be in the top 30 in points, and have attempted, at least, to have qualified for all of the regular season races.
But winning counts more.
So, now we are at Chicagoland, and the Chase begins. All drivers in the Chase have 2000 points, plus 3 extra points for each win. For the next three races, all 16 are in it, and anyone who wins moves on, but the rest have to fight for one of 12 positions who will continue into the next round.
Once we hit Kansas, the same fight for position continues, as only 8 drivers advance to the next round after Talladega. Again, a win guarantees advancement, but the field will tighten up, and even if a driver who was 16th at the end of the first elmination round wins every race in the second or third round, he or she cannot advance to the Championship. So while wins are important, so is consistency, at least where the Chase is concerned. Bonus points will be awarded up until this point.
After Phoenix, there will only be four drivers left competing for the Championship. As they head into Homestead, their points will once again be reset.
This is where it gets really fun.
At Homestead, there are four drivers who can be crowned Champion. Any one of four can win it by winning the race or being the top finisher. There are no bonus points, so leading a lap awards no one, unless it is the last lap. The driver who finishes highest in the race wins the Championship.
Well NASCAR, it seems you may just have gotten it right.
After making changes to qualifying, the Sprint All Star Race and now the Chase format, I am once again cautiously optimistic that the sport I love could be back.