NASCAR said Friday that it has begun discussions about changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series on the heels of a report that the sanctioning body was considering expanding the Chase field to 16 and putting more emphasis on winning.
"NASCAR has begun the process of briefing key industry stakeholders on potential concepts to evolve its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format," NASCAR Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes said in a statement. "This dialogue is the final phase of a multi-year process that has included the review of extensive fan research, partner and industry feedback and other data-driven insights. NASCAR has no plans to comment further until the stakeholder discussions are complete. We hope to announce any potential changes for the 2014 season to our media and fans very soon."
The scenario of a Chase expansion from 12 to 16 was reported by the Charlotte Observer. In that possibility, a win in the first 26 races would almost ensure a driver's entry into the Chase and if there were more than 16 different winners, the top 16 drivers would get in. If there were not 16 winners, the rest of the Chase field would be set by points.
Once the Chase field was set, a round of eliminations – similar to the NCAA tournament – would take place after the third, sixth and ninth race of the Chase, culminating with the championship determined by a winner-takes-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Observer also noted that the format could still change before any changes are made official. NASCAR is expected to make any announcement about changes to the 2014 points structure by the end of the month. NASCAR is also expected to announce changes to the qualifying structure in all three series.
An expansion of the Chase field to 16 would put NASCAR more in line with other leagues' playoff systems in terms of the percentage of teams qualifying for the postseason. Last season, 40 teams attempted all 36 races. In Major League Baseball, 10 of 30 teams make the playoffs. 12 of 32 NFL teams make the playoffs and 16 of 30 NBA and NHL teams make the playoffs.
We're not even going to venture a guess as to what the Chase would have looked like in 2012 had it been 16 teams. However, we can guess pretty safely that there would have been no race manipulation to worry about.
NASCAR CEO Brian France has mentioned his desire for a "Game 7" moment in NASCAR's Chase. And while the Chase hasn't been clinched until the checkered flag waved in the final race multiple times, only 2004 and 2011 have elicited major late race championship drama. Adding a winner-take-all (or highest-finishing-driver-take-all) guarantee at the end of the season certainly accomplishes that every year.
If NASCAR does make any changes to the Chase format, Tony Stewart would be the only driver with the opportunity to win a title before the Chase and in two different Chase formats.
So, what do you think? If you could change the Chase, how would you do it? Hit us up at HappyHourMailbag@Yahoo.com or drop us a line in the comments below.
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