Industry Leaders say new NASCAR Chase format’s Impact very positive

NASCAR's premier series wraps up its season Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the conclusion of a revised Chase for the Sprint Cup that has garnered the sport a significant spike in interest. The championship winner — Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin or Ryan Newman — will only be NASCAR's second first-time champion since '04, but could the new format still use some tweaks? THE DAILY this week conducted a roundtable with several people intimately involved in the sport to discuss the new format and its future.

Q: What kind of impact — positive or negative — has the new format had on NASCAR?

Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood: It's been positive. We're seeing a lot of emotion, we're seeing drivers go for the win. What I focus on is, "Ok, we all have these ideas and you put a plan in place and hope that it lives up to the expectation of what you thought the plan would do." It has been living up to that. You're seeing a little extra drama based on the format. We've seen some really good storylines in the races. What's always nice to see is when the reality lives up to the concept, which is drama as it relates to moving on. All the attention to the sport is going to always help us or help other tracks.

Team Epic VP Neil Howard, who advises Toyota's Motorsports business: Overwhelmingly positive. It shows that the folks at NASCAR are taking a progressive stance when it comes to giving fans what they want in their sports — excitement, suspense, drama, relevance for their favorite teams/drivers, etc. We all know NASCAR needs to evolve/grow its fan base and this platform has certainly generated incremental exposure/attention, particularly in a period of the sports calendar that becomes increasingly competitive with NFL, college football, etc. Casual and even non-NASCAR fans are getting exposed to the sport and its drivers via mainstream media's coverage of the Chase and, in particular, the subsequent post-race drama that's been occurring. It will be interesting to see if NASCAR has commissioned any research initiatives specific to the execution of and response to the new format this year in order to definitively gauge whether it achieved positive results in the eyes of the sport's major stakeholders and fans (both avid and casual).

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage: The Chase format has had a very positive impact on our sport. TV ratings for the AAA Texas 500 here at Texas Motor Speedway were up 8% over last year and the post-race hubbub here clearly impacted the Phoenix ratings, which were up a whopping 21%. People are interested and talking about NASCAR as a result. NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France talked about creating Game 7 moments and the 10-race Chase … has certainly done that. This year's Chase has been extremely memorable.

Chip Ganassi Racing President Steve Lauletta
: It has been a great success. The excitement on the track and with the fans has translated into a heightened awareness about the 10 race elimination format and something I hope we stick with for many years to come as it will only get better.

AP motorsports reporter Jenna Fryer
: It put an emphasis on winning during the regular season, which did in fact improve the racing in spots. With a berth in the Chase on the line, guys gambled in situations they wouldn't have under previous formats. Once the Chase began, it allowed for a reset for guys who had mediocre seasons. It's upped the intensity in the Chase. Brad Keselowski's win at Talladega, the Texas fracas because Jeff Gordon and Keselowski were both going so hard for the win and the automatic berth.

Q: What kind of changes, if any, would you make to the format?

Chitwood: It's tough because you see so many other sports in which the No. 1 seed doesn't win. There are enough examples out there where I don't think it's unusual at all. The wild card team has been very successful in the NFL. It would be different if we had never seen that in sports before and the favorites always won, but we've seen enough championships won by the underdog. It's just how the season plays out.

Howard: They'll continue to look at ways to make winning (and/or going for the win) more important as a criteria for qualification (particularly if Newman ends up winning in Homestead). After getting through this initial season of the new format, it's important to look at effective ways we can get more fans engaged in the Chase next year via relevant, consumer-facing promotions that create interaction and generate buzz (particularly in the digital/social space where so many fans are now consuming their sports).

Gossage: Despite criticism — and there will always be critics — I wouldn't change a thing. NASCAR needs to stick with this format and ride it for 10-15 years. Let a generation sink its teeth into it. This is exciting stuff.

Lauletta: As a non-Chase team I would like to see the points reset throughout the entire field so that any team can finish as high as 5th place at the end of the season. We have had some strong runs in the Chase but can only finish as high as 17th and 18th in points. We were higher than that when the Chase started. Let everyone be able to finish as high in the final season points as possible outside the four championship contenders.

Fryer: Three of the five most dominant teams in the regular season aren't in the finale. If winning really is more important, then I'd put a bigger reward on winning Chase races. Maybe it's carrying a bonus point or something into the next round, or through the Chase, etc. I am not sure how I feel about wins in the Chase earning you an automatic berth for the finale. It makes it too large of a final field, and allows a team that wins the opener the ability to coast for the next eight. Josh Carpenter/

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