NASCAR unveils 'Chase for the Championship'

NASCAR unveils 'Chase for the Championship'

During a press conference at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., NASCAR President Mike Helton unveiled the new point system that will determine the 2004 Nextel Cup series champion. The new system will work as ...

During a press conference at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., NASCAR President Mike Helton unveiled the new point system that will determine the 2004 Nextel Cup series champion.

The new system will work as follows: <ul> <li>5 additional points for the winner of the race - this will be in effect for all three of NASCAR's top series. Drivers will now be awarded 180 points, instead of 175 for a race win.

<li>All drivers will still be awarded 5-point bonuses for leading a lap, and leading the most laps. </ul>

The new point guidelines for NASCAR's premium division, will be called the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Chase for the Championship, and will work as such:

<ul> <li>After the 26th race of the season, every driver in the top-10 and any driver within 400 points of the leader will be eligible for the chase for the championship.

<li>The current point leader will have his points reset to 5050, with all trailing competitors being reset in descending 5 point increments (i.e. 2nd place = 5045, 3rd place = 5040, etc)

<li>All other competitors not participating in the chase for the championship will maintain their points as per the old system.

<li>There will be a $1 million minimum to all drivers in the top-10, and a $5 million minimum to the champion.

<li>The driver finishing in the 11th position receives a $250,000 bonus.

<li>Drivers ending the season in places 11-25 will see increases in season ending payouts. </ul>

NASCAR COO Mike Helton.
Photo by Robert Kurtycz.
While the media has called this a playoff, with a 26-race regular season, and a 10-race playoff-season, NASCAR President Mike Helton dismissed the word 'playoff', "This is not a playoff," said Helton. "Everyone of our events will continue to be a Super Bowl type race."

He was also hopeful that the change would help bring added value to the sport for its sponsors, drivers and fans.

"The Chase for the Championship will provide a better opportunity for more drivers to win the championship, creating excitement and drama throughout the entire season," Helton said. "In addition, the Chase for the Championship will showcase our drivers' talents, increasing the value for all teams and their sponsors."

NASCAR has been criticized severely over the last few weeks for making too radical of a change, with 85% of fans in Internet polls rejecting the plan and several top tier drivers vocally expressing concern. However, Helton made it clear that they believe they are doing the right thing for the sport.

"NASCAR has a pretty impressive track record of making the right decisions," commented Helton. "The Chase for the Championship will be a continuation of our season, with heightened drama," continued Helton. "It will increase the spotlight on all competitors and increase the value of being in the series for all teams."

"This will be exciting -- and fair. Since 1975, using the current point system, no driver has ever been outside the NASCAR Top 10 with 10 races remaining and come back to win the championship in our premier series. We added the 400-point cutoff to allow drivers outside the top 10 after 26 races to be included in the Chase for the Championship."

NASCAR Chairman Brian France reiterated that the sanctioning body thinks this is the best model to help the sport move forward and will be of great merit to fans, sponsors and drivers, "It's going to lift everybody up," said France. "Even if you are not in the race for the championship."

Practice action.
Photo by Daytona International Speedway.
France also went on to say that the point system facelift is not a one-season deal, but, rather, it is a long-term change.

"We do look at it (the point system) every year," commented France. "Are we going to change it down the road?' We'll make changes if we feel we didn't get it right. But we know this decision is a good one. 'Is there one thing we can tweak?' Who knows? We'll do that if we should."

"It's exciting and the right thing to do," France continued. "That's what drove us to this decision."

Kenseth/Earnhardt not in favor of change

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Series NASCAR-CUP