CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – NASCAR overhauled its championship format Thursday, creating a winner-take-all elimination system designed to reward “the most worthy, battle-tested” driver at the end of the season.
An expanded 16-driver field will be whittled down to a final four through three rounds of eliminations. The remaining four drivers will go into the season finale with an equal chance to win the championship: The first of the four to cross the finish line will be crowned Sprint Cup champion.
“No math. No bonus points. It’s as simple as it gets,” NASCAR Chairman Brian France said. “We now have arrived at a format that makes every race matter more. It will promote compelling competition for wins all season long.”
It’s the fourth and most radical change to either the points or championship format since France created the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship system in 2004. For 28 years prior to the Chase, the champion was the driver with the most points at the end of the season.
It was changed a year after Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title with one victory, and France began his pursuit of creating “Game 7 moments” for NASCAR. Along the way, he has made it clear he wants a greater emphasis on winning and drivers aggressively pursuing a trip to Victory Lane.
Under this new format, the days of settling for a good points day are officially over.
Why? Because a win in the 26-race “regular season” virtually guarantees a berth in the 10-race Chase. Then, once eliminations begin in the Chase, a driver can guarantee advancing into the next round with a victory. Last August, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski chased Kyle Busch around Watkins Glen and declined to aggressively move his rival out of the way. Keselowski settled for second, and in failing to win a regular-season race, he missed the Chase and was ineligible to defend his title.
Under the new format, a winless Keselowski would have no choice in that same situation but to bang fenders with Busch and go after the win.
That’s exactly what France wants to see on the track each week.
Doctors trying to get Schumacher out of medically induced coma
LONDON (AP) – Michael Schumacher’s doctors have started trying to wake up the Formula One great from the medically induced coma he’s been in since a skiing accident last month, his manager said Thursday.
The 45-year-old Schumacher suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock in the French resort of Meribel Dec. 29. The seven-time F1 champion has been in an induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital since then, although his condition stabilized following surgery after initially being described as critical.