NASCAR Rule Changes Send the Sport Spinning
By Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
Since its introduction in 1949 the wildly popular sport of stock car racing has undergone a mere fourteen rule changes, with the majority of them focusing on how the cars themselves would be set up in terms of engines and other body elements. However, as of January 2014, a major overhaul of the points system and the “chase” format was implemented, leaving many of the drivers worrying about the racing system they once knew so well. Originally, the drivers in the “chase,” meaning the top ten drivers who qualified with enough points to make it to the final ten races, would make it to the chase based on a point system that gave the driver a predetermined amount of points that correlated to the position they came in at the end of a race. The top ten drivers with the most points, along with an additional two drivers who had achieved the most wins in the 11th through 20th positions, were then considered as being a part of the chase for the Sprint Cup title, and an all out brawl spanning ten races at the worlds most famous race tracks would begin.
This entire system however is being altered, causing some NASCAR fans (and racers) to scratch their heads. The largest change is the expansion to including 16 cars in the chase for championship instead of only 12. This means that now, the top 16 drivers will have a shot at NASCAR glory, but it is not quite as simple as that. The new Chase will still feature the usual ten races, but with the addition of a much more important goal for the drivers to achieve. The Chase will now begin with a three race event called the “Challenger Round” in which the drivers who win are automatically advanced into the next set of races, while the other top drivers are determined by position and points. Next begins the “Contender Round,” where once again the winning drivers of the three races are automatically advanced and the remainder are determined by points. Finally, there is a set of four races called the “Eliminator Round,” and one final race called simply the Championship Event, in which the winner drivers in the “Eliminator Round” will battle it out for the championship. So by the end of the entire Chase, there will only be four drivers competing in the championship for the trophy.
While at first glance this may only seem as though the executives at NASCAR bundled up sets of races and gave them names, the tricky part to the new system is that for every racer who does not win a race, their points are reset to zero once the next race begins. This means that no matter if a driver came in second place during the previous race, he could, in theory, have a bad day and come in last, thus eliminating his chances of being able to race in the championship. Meaning that in reality, this change could provide the opportunity for any driver to potentially win a place in the championship, instead of the same names all race fans have come to know by heart.
Officials at NASCAR explained in an interview that the motivation behind the change was to encourage the drivers to do their absolute best, and basically encourage them to win more races. They also stated that they had gathered information over three years based around what the NASCAR fans wanted from the sport, what the drivers wanted to see changed, and after many years of testing and simulations this was the model that had worked the best. Although the new system may be a lot to retain for many lifelong fans, NASCAR officials believe it will be a drastic, yet welcome change to a model that was in need of an overhaul. While only time will tell if this new system works out for the best, it will be an interesting sport to watch for those speed junkies who have been fans of NASCAR for their whole lives, or for those just getting interested in the sport.