Report: NASCAR eyeing expanded Chase with eliminations, retooled points system

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NASCAR’s been hinting at changes for its top-tier Sprint Cup Series for some time, but a report tonight from Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer may have revealed just how big those changes could be.

In the report, Utter relays word from multiple sources that say NASCAR is looking at widening the current 12-driver field of its post-season Chase for the Sprint Cup to a total of 16 drivers.

Additionally, Utter writes that any driver who scores a win in the 26-race regular season would be “virtually” ensured of a spot in the Chase; should more than 16 different drivers win, the 16 with the most wins and highest in points would make the Chase.

But that’s not all, as according to Utter’s report, the Chase would then have a series of eliminations after the third, sixth, and ninth race in the 10-race stretch – each elimination taking out the four lowest Chase competitors in points – to create a four-driver battle for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Those four drivers would then be reset with the same amount of points, and the one who earned the most points at Homestead would win the Sprint Cup.

The sanctioning body has responded to the report in a statement from its chief communications officer, Brett Jewkes:

NASCAR has begun the process of briefing key industry stakeholders on potential concepts to evolve its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format. This dialogue is the final phase of a multi-year process that has included the review of extensive fan research, partner and industry feedback and other data-driven insights. NASCAR has no plans to comment further until the stakeholder discussions are complete. We hope to announce any potential changes for the 2014 season to our media and fans very soon.

Utter’s report stresses that the proposed format could be changed before an official announcement takes place. That has been expected to happen later this month.

Over the last couple of months, NASCAR CEO Brian France has put fans and media alike on alert for possible tweaks to the current points system that would create more emphasis on winning races rather than maintaining consistency.

“…Do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win? I don’t think we do,” he said in December during Champions Week in Las Vegas. “I think we can do – I’m not willing to say exactly what it’ll be, but I think we can do a little bit better. But I saw some things that I thought, hey, not that they weren’t trying to win, but that maybe the risk might have outweighed that, and we’ll be looking at that.”

France repeated this stance during an interview earlier this month on Motor Racing Network’s NASCAR Live radio show.

“We are not satisfied that we have the exact balance we want with winning, consistency, points, running for a championship,” he said to MRN. “We think we can make some tweaks to continue to incentivize risk taking and racing harder and so on. I made some remarks about that in Las Vegas and we’ll undoubtedly be coming with some things that put the incentive on winning races and putting things at the highest level.”

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne