Brian France says new Chase format should last for 20 years
Last month, NASCAR Chairman Brian France announced sweeping changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Instead of a 12-driver Chase with 10 drivers earning spots on points and two wild-cards based on wins, the Chase will now have 16 drivers — the regular-season points leader, plus 15 top-30 drivers who have won races. If there are not enough race winners, the winless drivers highest in points make it.
The 10-race Chase will now be divided into four segments: three three-race segments and one final race for the championship. Four drivers will be eliminated in each of the first three segments, with wins qualifying drivers to advance to the next segment, and the rest advancing based on points. The four remaining drivers will compete for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the highest finishing driver winning the title.
France spoke with Sporting News earlier this week about the decision to change the Chase.
SN: What made you comfortable rolling this out now as opposed to a year ago or a year from now?
France: Because things came together for us in terms of figuring out not just the Chase, but also how you qualify for the Chase — winning a race, etc. We didn’t have that policy all in a way where we felt comfortable where it all came together (before 2014). We didn’t just want to do an elimination style with the Chase, although that’s important. But when we started thinking about switching to wins and getting that balance in better order, when that all came together, which was this last fall, we started to think about it and to run all the different models that we have in front of us, and then obviously talked to our stakeholders and so on. That’s when it really came together for us.
SN: Would this type of Chase have been possible 10 years ago or would that have been too drastic a change?
France: I don’t know. I think it might have been. Sometimes you have to evolve things and that’s probably the smoother way to do things. This is exactly what we did. We evolved into the place it is now. I do think I would be really surprised if there were any significant changes in the foreseeable future. The reality is while we made a lot of adjustments, they’re relatively small — expanding from 10 to 12, having a wild card, important but not completely significant. And this is completely significant to get to what we think will be better racing and not just for the Chase. You heard Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. say it, he’s already probably in the Chase and he can let it loose, let it rip, and I think that’s what he is going to do.
SN: What are you most confident this new system will do and what are you more just wondering what it will do?
France: What we know it will do is it will change the way the drivers will compete. Some of them will disagree with that but it has to because strategies will change. There’s not an incentive for being consistent; really the majority of incentive is winning. And so I believe you’ll see more people take chances late in the race; I think strategies will change. There is still an element of consistency that is important — we may not have 16 teams that win a race this year. It still provides for a level of consistency but clearly the balance is different now.
SN: But what are you curious about as far as how certain things will play out?
France: We all are a little bit interested to see when we get on the mile-and-a-half tracks and everything else, just watch(ing) the strategies change. We don’t know. It depends on who has not had a win. They always want to win anyway — let’s face it, that’s where the prize money and the prestige and the exposure (are). They want to win anyway, this just gives them a lot more incentive to try to take chances to do that. They may be trying to get a win and block somebody else from getting in the Chase. It is entirely possible a really top team — you saw the reigning champion in 2012 not make the Chase in Brad. That’s going to be interesting to see how that works. That would include going through the Chase and through the final 10 races. Somebody can get knocked out of a round because they haven’t won one of those three or they’re not in the top eight or whatever it’s going to be. You’re going to see some strategies if you can knock out a really good team that has had two or three bad races in a row, I bet that’s going to be a factor.
SN: It seems the biggest question is the one race, everybody on equal footing, winner take all — how much debate was there over that?
France: We already have that. That’s the irony. It comes down every year to one, two or three teams that have to, sometimes obviously more than others, do well in that race. Last year, great example, Jimmie Johnson, if he has a mechanical problem on race day or gets in an accident or whatever else, he’s going to lose a championship. It always comes down to one race in one way or another. This just kind of assures that. That’s what we’re trying to do anyway. We’re not trying to have the final race of the season be (where) it already will be decided. Even the old format was designed to not be in that position. So the idea that we just assured that doesn’t really change it other than it’s an assurance of four teams. In the old format, you could have had five teams eligible if the right things happened in a given race. We’re comfortable with that because that’s the goal anyway.
SN: When people talk about your career, the leadership on the 2001 consolidated TV package and the changes to the points system in 2004 are the most talked about. Now with this, is this bigger change in the Chase going to be your legacy?
France: I don’t think about things like that. We make the best decisions that we can given the opportunities in front of us or the challenges in front of us. Whatever happens, happens. I do think this will be a format we’ll be using 20 years from now because I think it is going to excite our fans.