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Photo Courtesy:  Live NASCAR Online

NASCAR introduced the Chase for the Cup system a few years back to help make the battle for the Sprint Cup championship more interesting. Before the Chase system was added, drivers who did very well in the early part of the season could essentially coast through rough waters towards the end of the season to win the championship without any real challenge. That made the late-season races far less interesting so the Chase for the Cup system was introduced for the 2004 NASCAR season. This system was a step in the right direction as it added more importance to the last ten races of the season but over the past few years, NASCAR has once again run into the problem of the final races not mattering because the championship had already been wrapped up.

Starting in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, there is a new version of the Chase system that will guarantee the every single race matters. Under this new system, it doesn’t matter how well a driver does in the early parts of the season or even in the early parts of the Chase races (the final 10) – if they don’t do well in the last race of the season…they don’t win the championship.

The New System Explained
The new NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase system begins with the “normal” 26 races to start the season while the final 10 races of the season are the Chase portion of the schedule. The Chase for 2014 will contain 16 drivers (up from 12) and those 16 drivers will be the 15 who have earned the most race victories during the first 26 races. The 16th spot will go to the points leader after the 26th race provided that he or she doesn’t have a win. If there is somehow less than 15 drivers with wins during the first 26 races, an available spots will be filled according to the point standings. Once the 16 drivers in the Chase Grid have been picked under these new rules, those 16 will have their points reset to 2,000.

The final ten races of the 2014 NASCAR season will once again be the Chase races but the first 9 races are bunched into groups of three. The first three races of the Chase are now named the Challenger Round. The next three races are known as the Contender Round. The third trio of races are now known as the Eliminator Round and the final race of the season is simply known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship race.

In the Challenger Round, the 16 Chase drivers will battle as normal but should any of those drivers win a race, they automatically advance to the next round. That means that three drivers could guarantee themselves a spot in the Contender Round by winning a race in round 1. After the winner or winners take their spots in round 2, the other spots will be filled by the highest scoring drivers from the original 16 Chase drivers but only 12 go on to the Contender Round. Those 12 drivers are then all reset to 3,000 points.

The Contender Round works the same way as the Challenger Round with race winners being automatically advanced to round 3 while the other 8 spots for the Eliminator Round being filled by the top scoring 12drivers from the 12 who advanced past the Challenger Round. Points are set for 4,000 for those 8 drivers who advance.

The Eliminator Round works in the same way as well, with winners going onto the final race of the season to battle for the NASCAR championship. With three races in the Eliminator Round, three drivers can guarantee their place in the final shootout and the 4th spot will be the highest scoring driver from the group of 8 joining the race winners in the final race. Of course, should 1 driver win all three races in the Eliminator Round, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th spot would be based on points and so on. After these four drivers are established – their points are set to 5,000.

With the points reset to 5,000 for those 4 drivers, the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season is literally a race to the championship. Since the drivers come in with equal points, whoever finishes best – wins the championship. To win the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, any one of those four drivers only need to finish higher than the other three and the odds are good that if you wreck – you lose.

The upside to this new system is that every single race matters and until the final checkered flag of the season drops – more than one driver will still have a very real chance of winning the championship. The downside to this new system is that a driver could literally win every single race leading up to the final race but if he (or she) finishes last in the final race of the season – someone else will win the championship. With that in mind, the final race of the season should produce some pretty intense racing for those four drivers.