By Steve Mickey
NASCAR has always been known as the one sanctioning body in all of professional sports that is quick to make any changes that it feels is necessary to improve the sport for both the teams and fans. The majority of changes handed down by NASCAR either addresses safety issues or making sure that the competition level between teams stays on a level playing field.
When NASCAR introduced the Chase format in 2004, only the top-10 in the point standings would move into the final 10-races on the schedule with the opportunity to run for the title. Every driver started with 5,000 points with five bonus points being awarded for every position resulting in the leader starting with 5,050 points. That format lasted until 2007 when the number of eligible drivers to move into the Chase jumped to twelve with every driver starting the championship portion of the schedule with their points being reset to 5,000 plus 10 bonus points for every win during the first 26 races.
The format was tweaked before the 2011 season when only the top-10 in points were guaranteed a spot in the twelve driver field with the remaining two spots being awarded to the drivers outside the top-10 with the most wins. This was the first time that the sanctioning body used a win as part of the criteria for a driver to have the opportunity to win the championship.
The two spots that were up for grabs to teams if they won a race immediately added more excitement to the sport as teams that were out of contention in the points still had the opportunity to advance with just one trip to victory lane. It added more excitement to the sport as late in the 26-race regular season, teams were no longer content to just finish out the season. Suddenly, crew chiefs began to roll the dice with strategy and drivers were more willing to take chances on the track that might result in a win and a spot in the Chase.
This competing for the win attitude that many teams began to adopt instantly became a favorite with the fans and may have had a bearing in NASCAR deciding to once again tweak the Chase into the format that is now being used. Beginning with the 2014 season, the Chase field was increased to 16 with every driver posting a win in the first 26 races of the season being all but guaranteed of a spot in the Chase. The Chase was also changed to an elimination series with four drivers being eliminated after each three-race segment until there were only four drivers remaining heading into the last race with the opportunity to run for the title.
The Sprint Cup Series was the only one of NASCAR’s three elite series to use the Chase as both the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series still crowned its champion under the old point system. All of that is set to change beginning this season as NASCAR recently announced that both series will now use their own version of the Chase.
The Xfinity Series will conclude its season with a seven-race Chase that will include twelve drivers using two elimination rounds with four drivers being eliminated after each round. A win in the first 26 races will all but guarantee a driver’s entry into the Chase plus a driver that wins two of the Dash 4 Cash events will automatically qualify.
The Camping World Truck Series will also use a seven-race Chase that will include eight drivers with two elimination rounds. Six drivers will advance to the second elimination round with four moving into the final race with the opportunity to run for the title.
All three series will end their seasons at Homestead-Miami but all three will start at different tracks. Sprint Cup (Chicago), Xfinity (Kentucky) and Camping World Truck Series (New Hampshire) will kick off what NASCASR hopes are three tight battles that goes down to the last lap of the season before each champion is crowned.