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Debunking The “If You Win, You’re In” Myth For The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

Posted by Amy in General | NASCAR
2011 Sprint Cup Winner Tony Stewart

2011 Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart with the Sprint Cup. (photo credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)

This year marks a year of great change in NASCAR and for fans trying to navigate these changes. The first change is a new qualifying procedure that has multiple cars on the track at any given time- deemed “Knockout Qualifying.” Next the whole 2014 Chase format has been changed (think of the NASCAR Chase as being a championship playoffs if you are new to NASCAR).  Instead of 12 drivers (what it has been in seasons past)- the Chase has been expanded to 16 spots- where drivers are subsequently knocked out of the chase in three three-race rounds- eventually narrowing the field to four cars for the final race in Homestead-Miami. That right there seems like a lot of change right?

But what seems to be causing a lot of the confusion right now is HOW a driver qualifies for that Chase. Somehow- the idea that if a driver wins a race in the “regular season” (defined as the first 26 POINTS PAYING races of the NASCAR season) that driver is qualified for the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Series Cup.  This has been mentioned by national media on TV as well as by drivers.  Because of all the confusion, I decided to go back to the original NASCAR release announcing the new Chase format (which also address exactly HOW a driver qualifies for that chase) and read over it several times.

Let me answer some questions as I understand the new rules:

If my driver wins a race is he automatically in the Chase for the Sprint Cup? No- not necessarily. There are 16 positions at the start of the 2014 Chase for the Cup (playoffs). There are 26 points paying races in the “regular” season for  NASCAR. There are 43 drivers during any given points series race.   It is possible that there can be more than 16 different winners during the regular season.  If this is the case- the chase will be based on the 16 drivers with the  MOST races, ties being broken by standings in the chase.  Having one win does NOT guarantee anything.  Consider this- the 2014 NASCAR Sprint cup season is currently six races in and there have been six different winning drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch).  Theoretically there could be 26 different winners this season- granted this is highly unlikely- but entirely possible.

Can my driver make the chase if he doesn’t have a win? Yes- but it’s not easy.  The first 15 chase spots are designated for the 15 drivers WITH THE MOST WINS.  The final chase spot is reserved for the points leader, only IF that driver hasn’t won any races (but is the points leader after 26 points paying races).  It is possible, but highly improbable, to make the chase that way.  Another way your win-less driver might make the chase is if there are fewer than 16 different winners during the “regular” season.  Any chase spots not taken by drivers with wins are taken by non-winning drivers highest in points. Say, for instance, Denny Hamlin is your favorite driver and unfortunately he hasn’t won a race this season (sorry nothing against Denny- I just picked him randomly)- but there were only 11 “regular season” race winners by the time the Chase rolls around.  As long as Denny is one of the top five non-winning drivers in points he is in the chase.

What happens to the 16th Chase Grid position if the points leader is a race winner? It goes to the 16th winning driver or non-winning driver next in points if there are fewer than 16 winners.

Hold on a second– did you just say that a driver who has NOT won any races can make the chase if there are MORE than 16 different winners in the “regular” season? Yes! BUT only if that driver is the series points leader after the last race of the “regular season.” Somehow I think that this particular scenario coming into play is implausible.

Why did NASCAR do this? NASCAR’s position is that this format puts more emphasis on winning and less on “points racing”.  Perhaps this is true but at the same time it is punishing teams that are consistent but just can’t quite eek out that win. A driver who consistently finishes in the top five, top ten EVERY race-but does not get that win- will be overlooked for a driver who has a win but is lower in the points standings due to overall performance issues. That is what stinks about this new system.

Personally, I think they are trying to knock Jimmie Johnson out of contention for his 7th (#SE7EN) championship because there is a large fan contingent out there that doesn’t like the fact that Jimmie Johnson dominates. Often in any sports DOMINATION=UNPOPULARITY. I seriously doubt that NASCAR would admit to this however. It is odd to me that a sanctioning body for any sport would just suddenly change the way players qualify for the championships and the format for the championships themselves. While I am not a huge fan of other sports- I am SURE I would have at least heard about it if the MLB changed how teams get to the World Series or the NFL teams qualify for the the Super Bowl.

So what happens to my driver if he/she is knocked out of the chase during one of the elimination rounds? They return to the other points system that drivers who did not make the chase use. Their points are readjusted back to the non-chase points system and they can then continue to race and accumulate points for the best possible series standing. What this means is that the highest a driver that has been eliminated from The Chase can finish is fifth in the season standings.

How many drivers will get to attend Champion’s Week Festivities? Your guess is as good as mine here- it hasn’t been announced. I am really hoping they don’t knock it down to just the top four drivers- that will severely hamper Champions Week attendance.

I hope this helps! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and I will try to answer them best I can. What do YOU think of the new chase format?!

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2 Responses

  • Marcus Wyatt says:

    I still say this new points system stinks. Let champions be champions and quit dumbing down the playing field. Nothing about this makes any sense and I still don’t fully understand it. The old system worked just fine. But I say NASCAR blew it last year when they added a 13th car to the chase. From that point any goofy changes seemed acceptable.

  • shpangle says:

    As a long ago NASCAR fan, I just stumbled on the news of another new format. It’s too complicated and so contrived that there’s nothing to watch.

    That poor France fella doesn’t seem to have a clue. Ricky Bobby could do better.

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