16-Driver Chase grid introduced; First-To-The-Finish finale unveiled.
FORT WORTH, TEXAS - NASCAR announced a new championship format today that will put greater emphasis on winning races all season long, expands the current Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field to 16 drivers, and implements a new round-by-round advancement format that ultimately will reward a battle-tested, worthy champion.
Texas Motor Speedway annually plays host to the eighth race in the 10-event Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the AAA Texas 500 that is scheduled this season for Sunday, Nov. 2.
Five questions with Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage on the changes to the chase format
From a promoter perspective, will the changes enhance and amplify the Chase drama and how will it affect the AAA Texas 500 - the eighth race in the 10-event Chase format - set for Nov. 2 at Texas Motor Speedway?
What change did NASCAR make that you thought was most needed? "The thing that NASCAR did with this is they made sure every single race counts. You are no longer racing for a big, long-term picture; you are racing for today and that is what fans want to see. They want to come to a race and know that they are seeing the drivers and their teams doing the very best, lap after lap, race after race and that this race today matters more than anything else going on. They are not worried about next week. They aren't looking toward the end of the season.
They are worried about today because if you win today you are in the Chase. You've got a shot at winning the championship for the season. Everybody is going to try and be winning this race and the next week they are going to try and win that race. There is no pacing yourself. There are no testing things out and trying things out. You want to win today. So when you come to Texas for the April race, that race is huge. You've got to win. And if you can win there your season is made, you are in the Chase. To me, that means so much to the fans. They want to see that race that they bought a ticket to matter. Nobody buys a ticket to see a point championship. People are buying a ticket to see a race.
Do you think that NASCAR is trying to manufacture playoff drama with the changes or ultimately looking to improve the overall product? "It's often a criticism of NASCAR that they are somehow trying to manufacture things and I don't understand that because I didn't see that same charge levied against the NFL when they talked about eliminating the point after touchdown kick. Is the NFL trying to manufacture excitement? Yes! Absolutely they are and that is exciting. Is NASCAR trying to manufacture some excitement here? Absolutely! What is wrong with that?
Through the years we have seen the playoff for various sports expanded. The NFL use to have a couple of teams - or three teams and a conference - that would have a playoff and go to the Super Bowl. Now it is up to six teams. In some leagues, they take 50 percent of the teams and put them in championship rounds for the playoffs. Everybody tries to do that in some fashion or another. I don't know why it's different when people talk about NASACAR that way. Every sport is trying to create excitement and this is no different."
Do you like the elimination style where you need to produce throughout the Chase or you could have an early playoff exit just like some "stick-and-ball" sports? "I like the eliminations. I really do. You are going to have to produce early on or else you are going to get kicked out after that third race. Then more are going to get kicked out after that sixth race. Then after the ninth race, it's down to four drivers. I think that is a good thing.
That focuses the spotlight nice and hot on these drivers that are in the Chase. The eliminations to me make a lot of sense. It happens in every other sport. People can say what they want to but every other sport - you can have a great season but when you get to the playoffs you lose, you go home. Same thing here. You are going to have to win and do well in the Chase if you want to win the championship.
With all four drivers heading into the Chase finale at Homestead even, do you believe it will help attract the casual fan even more without all the various clinch scenarios? "I think it is going to bring everyone to pay more attention to NASCAR. The casual fan, the more hardcore fan because this is it. This is the championship race. Four drivers going at it. Whoever finishes ahead of the other three is going to win the title.
I can't imagine not selling that race out. I can't not imagine adding seats to Homestead for this thing. If that promoter can't sell that race out and add seats to the place and still sellout 100,000, 150,000 seats something is wrong down there because that race is going to be breathtaking.
It's going to be exciting. You are going to see guys doing things that you wouldn't typically see done. I know there are some complaints that some guy could have a great race at the end of the season and win the championship. Well a few years ago (2007), the New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl completely undefeated throughout the regular season and playoffs and they got to the Super Bowl and the New York Giants beat them. Nobody says the New York Giants didn't win the championship because the Patriots had this great season.
Well the same thing in NASCAR. You can have a great season, but you are going to have to come down to Homestead and you are going to have to perform better than those other three guys that are in the position to win the championship. You are going to have to do that to win. I think that is breathtakingly exciting. If they can't sell it out and they don't want it down there with that kind of excitement give it to us down here in Texas because we will sure do something with it."
Texas Motor Speedway