NASCAR Announces Changes to Race Formats
NASCAR announced sweeping changes to their points system for all three of their major tour series for the 2017 season, adding segments and point bonuses to each race in an effort to add more aggressive racing and more excitement for the fans.
The "enhancements" - created in collaboration with NASCAR drivers, owners and NASCAR fans, will divide racing into three segments with championship points awarded to the top ten finishers at the end of each segment, along with "playoff" points to be awarded to the winner of each segment.
And say goodbye to "The Chase". It's now just called "the playoffs".
"The enhanced format…is going to reward performance over the course of the entire season, something our fans have consistently asked for," said NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O'Donnell. "Every race matters, and winning is more important than ever."
The new enhancements include:
"Simply put, this will make our great racing even better," said NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. "I'm proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal - strengthening the sport for our fans. This is an enhancement fully rooted in teamwork, and the result will be an even better product every single week."
For each race, the first two segments will be 25% of the race distance, while the final segment will 50% of the race distance.
Between segments, pit road will be open for cars to pit, with the restart order for the start of each segment set by the order the cars came off pit road.
At the end of the 26-lap regular season, the playoff points will be added to each driver's total, and there will be a "regular-season champion"
"Our fans have spoken and we'll now declare a regular-season champion based upon the most points earned through the first 26 races," said O'Donnell. "We'll also award points for the playoffs based on regular-season performance, and that will carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
"What you do in those first 26 races really matters, not only to get into the playoffs but continue to move on in each round."
The new race format is the just the latest change NASCAR has implemented in the last 10 years, although today's announcement might be the most radical change yet.
Since 2004, NASCAR has made several radical changes to the sport, starting with the introduction of The Chase and a new points system in 2011 - all in an effort to add excitement a cater to a younger demographic that wants more action on the track.
Today's announcement was in stark contrast to earlier "State of the Sport" addresses where France and others emphasized NASCAR's desire to be true to their grassroots fans and to the history of the sport, however O'Donnell believes fans will embrace changes that help improve the racing on the track.
"I don't look at this as a drastic change by any means," said O'Donnell. "This is something that we all feel really good about as an industry that improves what we think is already a great sport."
Among the drivers who helped devise the changes and participated in the announcement were Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin, who believe both new fans and "old-school" fans will like the changes.
"I think the old-school fans actually should love this, because we're getting back to you're crowning your champion based off of 36 races now again," said Hamlin. "It's not just that 10 races. Every single race matters, so I think that the old-school, core fan that loved the old points system as you start at 1, you end the 36, should accept this with open arms for sure."
Earnhardt, Jr., who missed the last half of the season with concussion symptoms, said the new enhancements will reward drivers for their performance for the entire race, not just the finish.
"I was in a unique position this past season to be a driver and a fan, and definitely I think this creates a lot of interest in a part of the event, in every event, every single week where it was needed. There will be a lot on the line," said Earnhardt, Jr. "As a driver, I'm happy to be rewarded for performing well throughout the event, not just for how I finished
"It's going to be great to be rewarded as a driver for consistently performing well throughout an event."
The idea of breaking races into segments has been used in the All Star race as well as the qualifying Duel races at Daytona for several years, with varying degrees of success, and is similar in concept to the heat races that were experimented with in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season.
"This is not a new concept," said Chief Operating Officer of International Speedway Corporation Joie Chitwood. "There's been a lot of events where we pay halfway money. So this is not really new. Many track promoters have worked with the industry to come up with other ways to incentivize other elements of racing early on, so I don't think it's a new concept per se."
The drivers who joined O'Donnell on the stage all agreed on one-thing: the new "enhancements" will be better for everyone - drivers and fans alike.
"Wait until you see it on the racetrack," said Keselowski. "If you are watching right now, please trust us. When you see this on the racetrack, this is going to be the best racing you've ever seen."
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