Brian France: Changes to new Chase format unlikely for at least 20 years

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Although there were several tweaks during the first 10 years of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, last month’s major changes to the format should last for the next 20 years.

That’s what NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France told SportingNews.com in an interview earlier this week.

“I do think this will be a format we’ll be using 20 years from now because I think it is going to excite our fans,” France told writer Bob Pockrass.

The 2014 Chase will look little like its 10 preceding editions. Among the most significant changes:

* The Chase field will expand from 12 to 16 drivers.

* The Chase will feature three elimination rounds, with four drivers each being eliminated following each round, leaving a four-driver, winner-take-all (highest-finishing driver earns the championship) format heading into the season-ending race at Homestead. Drivers who win a race in a particular three-race segment are assured of advancing to the next round.

“Somebody can get knocked out of a round because they haven’t won one of those three or they’re not in the top eight or whatever it’s going to be,” France told SportingNews.com. “You’re going to see some strategies if you can knock out a really good team that has had two or three bad races in a row, I bet that’s going to be a factor.”

* Wins will be of utmost importance. Drivers who win at least one race during the 26-race regular season will most likely make the Chase (by winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. becomes Chase-eligible). The points leader at the end of the first 26 races, along with the 15 top-30 drivers who have won races, will make up the 16-driver Chase field. If more than 16 drivers win races in the first 26 races, those highest in points will qualify. If fewer than 16 drivers win races in the first 26 events, those winless drivers highest in points will round out the Chase field.

“Sometimes you have to evolve things and that’s probably the smoother way to do things,” France said of the new changes to the Chase. “This is exactly what we did. We evolved into the place it is now. I do think I would be really surprised if there were any significant changes in the foreseeable future.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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