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.”