NASCAR announces major change to championship format

Jimmie Johnson is likely still the favorite heading into 2014. (USATSI)

For the first time in NASCAR history, the sport will crown its champion in a winner-take-all race. 

NASCAR’s new championship format, announced on Thursday, will feature a 16-driver field that, over the course of 10 playoff races, will eventually be whittled down to four contenders to compete in one NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship to take place on Nov. 16 at the Ford-400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

"The new Chase will be thrilling, easy to understand, and drive competition to a new level," NASCAR CEO Brian France said on the final day of the Sprint Media tour. 

Fifteen drivers will make the playoff field based off of the most number of wins accumulated throughout the 26-race regular season. The last spot will go to the points leader following the regular season finale.  

Via NASCAR: “The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the NASCAR Chase grid – provided they have finished in the top-30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race (expect in rare instances).

“In the event that there are 16 or more different winners over 26 races, the only winless driver who can win a Chase Grid spot would be the points leader after 26 races. If there are fewer than 16 winners in the first 26 races, the remaining Chase positions will go to those winless drivers highest in points.”

Once the field of 16 is determined, four cars -- the lowest point totals from the remaining Chase drivers -- will be eliminated after every three races, but, any racer who wins one of the three races automatically advances to the next round. 

The first three races will be called the Challenger Round, followed by the elimination of the initial four. The remaining 12 racers will have their points reset to 3,000. 

The next three races will be known as the Contender Round, followed by another cut. All eight remaining drivers will be reset to 4,000 points.

The final three races will be known as the Eliminator Round, until there are only four drivers left to compete at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title. The final four will all begin with 5,000 points, but whichever driver finishes first among the four contenders will be crowned NASCAR's champion. 

"No math, no bonus points for leading laps, previous wins," France said. "It's going to be the first of four drivers to cross the finish line and that will define the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. You know what? That's as simple as it gets." 

This new format represents a huge departure from how NASCAR crowned its champion. Since 2004, NASCAR used the Chase Series – a playoff points system featuring the top drivers. Before that, it had simply been the top points leader throughout the duration of the season. 

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