Give new Chase for Sprint Cup format a chance


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Thursday’s announcement by NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France presented the most significant changes yet in the decade-old Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff format.

In so doing, France may have finally added the final piece to a puzzle that long had a feeling something was missing throughout the first 10 years of its existence.

France has long sought to inject a Final Four or Super Bowl type feel into the Chase. From the time the format was first conceived and then implemented in 2004, several tweaks were made in subsequent years to potentially enrich the overall experience for fans, drivers, team owners, sponsors and media.

Among those changes: The original driver field was increased from 10 to 12, adding two wild card entries. The overall points system was overhauled to make it simplified for fans and drivers alike.

And yet, while France touted the revisions and tweaks to the Chase, attendance continued to wane at race tracks, while TV ratings were stagnant if not diminished.

Some fans liked the Chase format and flocked to it. Others hated it, with some so much in disfavor that they took the ultimate step of losing interest in the sport.

And then there was a sizeable crowd of fans who grew frustrated that their favorite driver – be it Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or whomever – was constantly being one-upped by Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus as they merrily went on to win six of the last eight Cup championships.

But Thursday’s announcement should be the thing that finally moves the needle to the positive for NASCAR.

Just the seemingly endless marketing aspects of the new elimination-style format are enough to make NASCAR Vice President of Marketing Steve Phelps call it a “dream come true” for him and his staff.

Sure, no matter what France and NASCAR does, there is just no pleasing some fans. The Twittersphere was abuzz after France’s announcement. Many comments seemed to reflect ratcheting up the hate fans already had of the old format without even giving the new format a chance.

Others said they were done with NASCAR.

But there were also a lot of fans that expressed sentiments clearly in support of the new changes.

One fan (@MDSasquatch) even tweeted “not sure about the new format, but I sure am looking forward to seeing it in action. Homestead is going to be epic!”

And “epic” is exactly what France and the rest of NASCAR is going for. They took the first step in that direction Thursday.

Granted, there is a large segment of fans that believe the driver with the most wins or points should be the champion. That’s old school thinking at best.

And while NASCAR has historically been an old school sport, it also knew it had to get with the times and modernize for nothing short of its ultimate survival.

NASCAR has perhaps suffered more than any other major professional sports league from the economic downturn of the last seven years, losing countless fans and TV viewers, suffering major drops in media coverage and even having several teams go out of business.

If you’re France or president Mike Helton, you can’t sit on your hands, stomp your feet and hold your breath until you turn blue to force things to change.

If what you have in place isn’t working or isn’t attracting the kinds of numbers you seek, you have to sometimes make a bold move, as France did Thursday. You sometimes have to go against the grain, even if it appears to be a gamble that could go either way.

To gain back old fans, attract new fans and increase at-track attendance and TV viewership, NASCAR could not kept the status quo and done nothing. Had that happened, it’s unlikely there wouldn’t have been any significant changes in attendance and eyeballs any time soon.

But now after Thursday, the NASCAR fandom world is abuzz with the likes of:

“Hey, did you hear what Brian France announced?”

“Wow, what do you think about the new changes in the Chase?”

“I’m curious to see how this new format is going to play out.”

And, of course:

“Anything to keep Jimmie Johnson from winning another one.”

“Hey, maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally will win a championship this way.”

Thursday’s announcement wasn’t a snap decision.

France said he and other officials of the sanctioning body, along with representatives from the three series’ auto manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota), numerous sponsors, stakeholders and even a number of fans spent nearly three years – and went through numerous scenarios – before arriving at the new format.

This is a well thought out system, in my mind. But like anything, is it perfect? Probably not. There likely will be a glitch or two along the way. There will also likely be times where NASCAR may have to step in and make a rules determination that might not sit well with some, or to make an interpretation that will not be popular with fans and drivers.

But this is what we have now and we owe it to ourselves and the sport to at least see how it plays out.

Without trying to sound blasphemous to lifelong fans of The Beatles, if the late John Lennon were a NASCAR fan, he might change one of his signature songs from “Give Peace a Chance” to “Give the New Chase a Chance.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring victories for ESM, Porsche, and Paul Miller Racing

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A thrilling final three hours of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring saw the lead change hands multiple times and fuel strategy even come into play in the run to the checkered flag.

In the end, Tequila Patron ESM rebounded from early-race heartbreak – the No. 2 Nissan DPi dropped out after contact in Turn 1 – to take a Prototype victory with the sister No. 22 in the hands of Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre, and Johannes van Overbeek.

GT Le Mans honors went to the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for Porsche GT Team after Patrick Pilet passed the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander to take the lead, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead through the final stint to seal the victory for Pilet, third driver Frederic Makowiecki, and the Porsche team.

The GT Daytona victory went to Paul Miller Racing in the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Corey Lewis.

Reports on all three classes are below.


A terrifying accident for the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, in the hands of Tristan Vautier, set the stage for what looked like a late-race shootout between ESM, Wayne Taylor Racing, Mazda Team Joest, and Action Express Racing.

A cycle of pit stops saw the No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac take the lead, with Felipe Nasr at the helm, ahead of Pipo Derani in the No. 22 ESM Nissan.

However, Derani, who held the lead prior to the pit sequence, made quick work of Nasr on the subsequent restart to retake the lead, and he took off into the darkness from there to win by over 11 seconds.

Renger Van Der Zande brought the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac home in second, a solid rebound after the team failed to finish the Rolex 24 at Daytona, while Nasr ended up third after having to save fuel on the last stint.

Mazda Team Joest seemed poised to challenge for victory with their No. 55 RT-24P, but a clutch problem that saw them struggle to exit the pits reared its ugly head again after their final stop, with driver Harry Tincknell unable to get the car going and losing a lap in the process. Tincknell ended up sixth at the checkered flag.

Of note: the aforementioned Vautier was not hurt following his massive crash, in which the car pushed out wide exiting Sunset Bend and made hard contact with the outside tire barriers, launching the car into the air on impact.

Vautier did climb from the No. 90 Cadillac unscathed, however the car was destroyed on impact. The incident ended a promising run for the Spirit of Daytona squad, which had been running inside the Top 5 after starting the race on the pole and leading early on.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

The finish looked set to come down to a Porsche vs. Ferrari duel, as Porsche GT Team and Risi Competizione battled for the GTLM victory in the final hours. Toni Vilander had the Ferrari in the lead with less than two hours remaining, but had a hungry Porsche driver in Patrick Pilet all over the back of him.

Eventually, Pilet was able to draft his way by Vilander on the Ulmann Straight, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead after taking over the car from there.

BMW Team RLL then emerged as a threat in the final hour, with Alexander Sims getting up to second the No. 25 BMW M8 GTLM, but could not get close enough to Tandy to mount a challenge, finishing more than six seconds behind.

Laurens Vanthoor brought the No. 912 Porsche home in third to put two Porsches on the GTLM podium.

Risi Competizione, with Alessandro Pier Guidi finishing the race, faded to fifth, with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing getting around for fourth.

GT Daytona

Paul Miller Racing enjoyed a comparatively smooth run to the finish, controlling the GTD lead for much of the closing stages, with Bryan Sellers having a strong final stint to seal the victory by a margin of over eight seconds.

The win is also an emotional one for the Paul Miller team, as it is their first triumph since 2016 and comes at one of the marquee events for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Alessandro Balzan put on a late-race charge in his No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 to finish second for Scuderia Corsa, while defending race winners Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports rounded out the podium, with Jeroen Bleekemolen bringing the car home in third.

Of note: Michael Shank Racing appeared to have a shot at the win following an effort of herculean proportions. The team’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 was destroyed in a practice crash on Thursday – driver Justin Marks suffered rear-brake failure and pounded the tire barriers in Turn 13.

The No. 93 team skipped qualifying to ensure the car was repaired sufficiently for the race, and their efforts were rewarded with a very strong performance that saw them leading as the final three hours began.

The sister No. 86 also ran strongly, running as high as third in the final hours.

However, both cars faded over the final stints, with the No. 93 finishing seventh and the No. 86 ending up eighth.

Results by class can be found here – overall race results can be viewed here.

IMSA continues its 2018 season with the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach on April 14.