Most drivers seem to favor NASCAR format changes

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR hopes its new Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will create a Game 7-like atmosphere during the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The sanctioning body laid out plans Thursday to increase the playoff field to 16 drivers. Four drivers will have one race to win it all.

“We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, puts a premium on winning races and concludes with a best-of-the-best, first-to-the-finish line showdown race – all of which is exactly what fans want,” Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO said.

With winning becoming so important, there already was some concern that drivers might be too aggressive at the end of the race. France said he expects that, but said the sanctioning body will clamp down on dirty driving.

“We’re real clear about this: whether this format or any format if it’s late in the race and you’ve got a faster car, we expect some contact,” France said. “Obviously, there are limits, but that’s always part of NASCAR to have some version of contact late in the race. Will this bring more of that? I’m sure it will to some level, but that’s NASCAR.”

Most drivers and every speedway seemed happy with the changes.

“I think that the more drivers in it, the more opportunity,” Danica Patrick said. “And for me, as a new driver in the Sprint Cup Series, that definitely plays into my hand.”

“The thing that NASCAR did with this is they made sure every single race counts,” Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said.

“Nobody buys a ticket to see a points championship. People are buying a ticket to see a race.”

The new rules will go into effect at the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.

FORMAT CHANGES

WHO MAKES THE CHASE: Sixteen drivers will make the Chase. A win virtually guarantees a driver a spot in the Chase field. Other qualifiers will be determined based on point standings.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Once the Chase begins, there will be three rounds – the “contender,” “challenger” and “eliminator” – each consisting of three races. Four drivers will be eliminated after each round. A win by a championship-eligible driver automatically clinches a spot in the next round. Ultimately, four drivers will compete in the season finale in a winner-take-all championship. The highest finisher of the four wins.

WILL IT WORK: Time will tell. This is the fourth significant change to the format in the past 10 years, but clearly its boldest. NASCAR joins other sports with an elimination-style format, including the NFL, MLB, NHL and NCAA basketball.

– Associated Press

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