Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - NASCAR unveiled on Thursday sweeping changes to its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format in 2014, expanding the field of drivers/teams from 12 to 16 and including a series of elimination rounds to determine its champion.
Under the new format, a win during the 26-race regular season all but guarantees a berth in the 10-race Chase. After the regular season concludes on Sept. 6 at Richmond, 16 drivers/teams will qualify for what will now be called the "NASCAR Chase Grid."
The number of drivers in contention for the Sprint Cup Series championship will decrease after every three Chase races. The first three events in the playoffs (Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover) will be known as the "Challenger Round."
After Dover, the Chase field is trimmed to 12. Chase races 4-6 (Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega) will be referred to as the "Contender Round." The field will then be cut to eight for the "Eliminator Round," which will include Chase events 7-9 (Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix).
Just four drivers/teams will remain in the Chase when the series concludes its season on Nov. 16 at Homestead. The highest finishing driver among the final four in the last Chase race will win the Sprint Cup championship.
Bonus points for laps led will not apply in the season-finale at Homestead, so the official finishing position alone will decide the champion.
"This new format rewards winning," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said during his annual state of the sport speech. "It elevates the importance of every race across the entire schedule. It ultimately rewards those drivers and teams who perform at the highest level when the championship is on the line. The new Chase will be thrilling and easy to understand. It will help drive our sport's competition to a whole new level."
NASCAR instituted a playoff format for its premier series in 2004. France said an elimination format for the Chase has been discussed for the past three years.
The 2014 Sprint Cup season begins with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.