NASCAR’s new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup has Kentucky Speedway in an enviable position.
Those Sprint Cup drivers waiting for their first win? Not so much.
The Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts on June 28 kicks off the final 10 races for drivers to qualify for the Chase. NASCAR’s new format awards victories instead of points. ESPN analyst and former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven predicts the action at Kentucky — and the final nine races — could get heated with drivers desperate for a win.
“I think (the race) being in June in this system is Utopia. It’s perfect,” Craven said during Kentucky Speedway’s media day Tuesday. “When you get to June you better have things figured out. If you haven’t won yet, you need to do some things. I call it racing without a conscience. What are you willing to do to win a race? We’re going to see some very entertaining racing.”
In the restructured Chase format, the top 16 drivers with the greatest number of Sprint Cup Series wins after the first 26 races advance to the championship round. Four drivers will be eliminated after the first three rounds: the Challenger (races 27-29), Contender (30-32) and Eliminator (33-35). The final four drivers compete in a winner-take-all race for the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
The 16th Chase position will go to the points leader after race No. 26 if the driver does not have a win. If more than 16 drivers have won a race, then the tie will be broken by number of wins first and Sprint Cup points second.
Seventeen drivers won races last season
“It’s not about being really good or average, it’s about winning,” Craven said. “To win a race at that level should be very rewarding.
“I think it raises the bar. I think this season is going to be full of energy. There’s going to be teams that capitalize on the changes early that might surprise us. There are going to be some left playing catch up. It’s all going to be very interesting.”
How will six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson fare in the new system? Very well, according to Craven.
“Jimmie Johnson has a willingness to run on the edge more than most drivers. Jimmie Johnson also has the talent to back up that willingness,” Craven said. “I think he’s destined for seven titles. I think when he captures his seventh title he’s already made up his mind he wants eight.”
Kyle Busch, one of those who prefers racing on the edge, was critical of the new format. It won’t push him to race harder for the win, which is what NASCAR is after. It will, according to Craven, make more drivers like Busch. It’ll also make them take more daringchances, especially in those final laps.
“I thought he was right (with his comments),” Craven said. “You don’t fear what you don’t know. Kyle does race every lap like it’s his last. Now you’re going to see drivers who would normally be characterized as good guys grow fangs. You’re going to see things from drivers that seem out of character. That’s what Kyle doesn’t realize.
“This system rewards a team and a driver for emptying the tank, for taking the extra risk. It rewards them by putting them in position with 15 other drivers to win a championship.”
Kentucky Speedway schedule
June 26: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225
June 27: NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300
June 28: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts
Sept. 19: ARCA Racing Series ZLOOP 150
Sept. 20: NASCAR Nationwide Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300