France says new format has made NASCAR better
After a wild playoff round filled with brawls and go-for-the-throat racing that left NASCAR’s biggest stars out of title contention, chairman Brian France said Friday the series would “be delighted” if winless Ryan Newman defied the odds and claims the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
France announced the revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in January and promised it would place a greater importance on winning. It worked during the regular season, when a victory earned a driver an automatic berth in the 16-driver Chase field.
It’s also been a critical part of the three elimination rounds, as both Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski pulled off must-win victories to avoid elimination. Harvick’s victory last week in Phoenix put him into Sunday’s championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But Newman has debunked the theory that winning is the most important element by making NASCAR’s final four without a win. His most recent victory was last year’s Brickyard 400, and he enters the championship round on a 51-race losing streak.
Newman made it into the finale with consistent, unspectacular finishes for Richard Childress Racing. He’s led just 41 laps all season with just four top-five finishes. Two of those did come during the second and third segments of the Chase.
“What we’re all finding out is the strategies that are associated with competing in this new format are different, and they’re unknown and untested,” France said Friday. “Phoenix was a great example of that, where one person in Harvick won the race. But another in Ryan Newman got there in more of a consistent model, but got there nonetheless. We’ll be delighted if Ryan Newman and Richard Childress are able to pull it off. I think he’s the underdog at this point, but they kind of like that, so we’ll see how it plays.”
Newman will race for the title against Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, a trio that has combined for 10 victories this season. The first of the four drivers to cross the finish line wins the championship, but France feels confident the champion will also win the race.
He often references the 2011 finale when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards waged a lap-by-lap battle for 400 miles for the championship. Stewart won the race, finished tied in the standings with Edwards and won the title on the tie-breaker. That epic race was one of many instances that illustrate how championship contenders seem to hit a higher gear over the final month of the season.
“What we’ve seen, if you go through past years, is how those teams will be elevating their game against everybody else,” France said.
With four drivers now in the championship field, France believes the finale to be remembered for a very long time.
“I think depending on what happens on Sunday, it has a chance to be one of the most successful seasons in NASCAR history,” he said.
His enthusiasm for the Chase is understandable. France introduced the format in 2004 and it has undergone several tweaks over the year before this season’s radical overhaul. He said there would “very modest to zero” tweaks to the Chase during the offseason.