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The Sprint Cup trophy is presented to the champion after the Ford 400.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup[1], originally known as "The Chase for the Championship"[2] during its creation, and then "The Chase for the Nextel Cup" (from 2004 to 2007) is the championship system used in NASCAR's top division, the Sprint Cup Series. The Chase was announced on January 21, 2004, and first used during the 2004 Nextel Cup season. The format used from 2004 to 2006 was modified slightly for the 2007 season. The 10 race Chase pits the 12 drivers with the highest "regular season" points against each other, while racing in the standard field of 43 cars. Beginning with the 2008 Sprint Cup Series, the Chase became known by its new name as a result of the merger of Nextel Communications with Sprint Corporation. The driver with the most points after the final 10 races is declared the champion.


Sprint Cup Champions (under Chase system)

Seeding and Scoring


The current version of the Chase was announced by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France on January 22, 2007. The current format modifies the existing format announced on January 21, 2004, and is the 12th time since 1949 that the point system has been changed.[2]

After 26 "regular season" races, the top 12-ranked drivers, as determined by points accumulated during the season, advance to contend for the Cup championship. The 12 driver's championship points are reset to a base of 5,000 points per driver, with a bonus of 10 points awarded to each driver for each win during the regular season. At the conclusion of the 10-race Chase, the driver with the highest point total is the Sprint Cup champion. During the Chase, normal scoring applies, with drivers who win a race receiving 190 points for the win, 5 bonus points for leading a single lap, and 5 points for leading the most laps.

In 2007, NASCAR expanded the field of contenders from 10 drivers to 12, and implemented a 10 point-per-win bonus. Brian France explained why NASCAR made the changes to the chase:

"The adjustments taken [Monday] put a greater emphasis on winning races. Winning is what this sport is all about. Nobody likes to see drivers content to finish in the top 10. We want our sport -- especially during the Chase -- to be more about winning."

Origins of the Chase

The publicly stated purpose for the NASCAR Chase system was to make the NASCAR mid-season more competitive, and increase fan interest and television ratings. The timing coincides with the commencement of the college and National Football League seasons. Prior to the Chase format, the Cup champion was often determined mathematically long before the end of the NASCAR season; a situation that still exists in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, which does not have a Chase system.

By resetting and compressing the scoring of top 10 drivers, the chances of each of those ten drivers winning the championship was increased, while not precluding anyone with a legitimate chance of winning (based on the historical analysis that no driver outside the top 10, with 10 races remaining in the season, has ever gone on to win the Championship).[2]

Short track racing, the grassroots of NASCAR, began experimenting with ideas to help the entry-level racer. In 2001, the United Speed Alliance Racing organization, sanctioning body of the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series, a short-track stock car touring series, devised a five-race system where the top teams in their Hooters ProCup North and Hooters ProCup South divisions would participate in a five-race playoff, the Four Champions, named for the four Hooters Racing staff members (including 1992 NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki) and pilot killed in an April 1, 1993 plane crash in Blountville, Tennessee. The system organized the teams with starting points based on the team's performance in their division (division champions earn a bonus), and the teams would participate in a five-race playoff. The five races, added to the team's seeding points, would determine the winner. The 2001 version was four races, as one was canceled because of the September 11th terrorist attacks; however, NASCAR watched as the ProCup's Four Champions became a success and drivers from the series began looking at NASCAR rides. The idea was to give NASCAR, which was becoming in many areas the fourth-largest sport (after Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA and surpassing in some regions the NHL) attention during baseball's road to the World Series and the outset of the pro and college football, NHL and NBA seasons.


"The Matt Kenseth Rule"

The Chase has been referred to as "the Matt Kenseth Rule" as a result of Kenseth's controversial championship in the final Winston Cup in 2003, the year prior to NASCAR adopting the Chase system and Nextel becoming the namesake sponsor. In 2003, Kenseth won the then-Winston Cup series championship despite winning only one race (that being the third race of the year in Las Vegas Motor Speedway) but ending the season with 25 top-ten finishes. In contrast, Ryan Newman won eight races that year (22% of the 36 races run in 2003), but finished sixth in points. In truth, "the Matt Kenseth Rule" more properly refers to the NASCAR numerical scoring system also implemented for the 2004 season, which increased the points awarded to race winners, thus emphasizing winning in addition to consistency. NASCAR acknowledged that the 2003 championship outcome was not the driving factor in establishment of The Chase, as NASCAR had been researching methods to adjust the points system to put more emphasis on winning races since 2000. However, the coincidence of the commencement of the new format in 2004 and Kenseth's 2003 championship linked the issues, and were even referred to by NASCAR officials in the interviews and press releases following the announcement of the new format.

Chase for the Sprint Cup Tracks

The following are the ten race tracks at which the final ten Chase for the Sprint Cup races are run. Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas) was added in 2005 as a result of outcome of the Ferko lawsuit. Prior to this suit, the final three races of the NASCAR season, and thus, the final three race tracks for The Chase, were held at Phoenix International Raceway (Avondale, Arizona), Darlington Raceway (Darlington, South Carolina, eliminated by NASCAR as a result of the lawsuit), and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Florida). Also, by part of a 3-way track change, Talladega Superspeedway will move to a later date, Atlanta Motor Speedway will move to the Labor Day weekend date, and Auto Club Speedway will move to a later date inside the Chase (starting 2009).[3]

List of 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup tracks (In order of which they are raced)
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, NH
Dover International Speedway
Dover, DE
Kansas Speedway
Kansas City, KS
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, AL
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Concord, NC
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville, VA
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Hampton, GA
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, TX
Phoenix International Raceway
Avondale, AZ
Homestead-Miami Speedway
Homestead, FL
List of 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup tracks (In order of which they are raced)
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, NH
Dover International Speedway
Dover, DE
Kansas Speedway
Kansas City, KS
Auto Club Speedway
Fontana, CA
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Concord, NC
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville, VA
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, AL
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, TX
Phoenix International Raceway
Avondale, AZ
Homestead-Miami Speedway
Homestead, FL

Comparisons of formats of The Chase

2006 Chase Contenders and Seedings in 2006 and 2007 Systems

The Chase for the Nextel Cup was created in 2004 by NASCAR when Nextel started to sponsor the series. In original version of the Chase, following the 26th race of the season, all drivers in the top 10 and any others within 400 points of the leader got a spot in the 10-race season conclusion. Like the current system, drivers in the Chase had their point totals adjusted. However, it was based on the number of points at the conclusion of the 26th race. The first-place driver in the standings led with 5,050 points; the second-place driver started with 5,045. Incremental five-point drops continued through 10th place with 5,005 points). In addition, drivers received 180 points for winning a race, 5 bonus points for leading the most laps, and 5 bonus for leading a single lap.

Old Points System - 2006 results

Place Points Driver
1st 5050 Matt Kenseth
2nd 5045 Jimmie Johnson
3rd 5040 Kevin Harvick
4th 5035 Kyle Busch
5th 5030 Denny Hamlin
6th 5025 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
7th 5020 Mark Martin
8th 5015 Jeff Burton
9th 5010 Jeff Gordon
10th 5005 Kasey Kahne

Old Points System - 2006 results, using 2007 format

Place Points Driver Wins
1st 5050 Kasey Kahne 5
T-2nd 5040 Matt Kenseth 4
T-2nd 5040 Jimmie Johnson 4
4th 5030 Kevin Harvick 3
T-5th 5020 Tony Stewart 2
T-5th 5020 Jeff Gordon 2
T-5th 5020 Denny Hamlin 2
T-8th 5010 Kyle Busch 1
T-8th 5010 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 1
T-8th 5010 Greg Biffle 1
T-11th 5000 Mark Martin 0
T-11th 5000 Jeff Burton 0

The most evident shift in the Chase seeding which reflects the emphasis on winning of the 2007 format, is Kasey Kahne who, under the 2006 system entered the Chase in 10th place, with 5000 points. Had the 2007 format been in place in 2006, Kahne's 5 wins would have placed him first in the Chase seeding.

2004 through 2008 Chase Champions Under (Pre-Chase) System

A comparison of the 2004-08 Chase results for the top three drivers, if those seasons had been run using the (Pre Chase) points format.

It should also be noted that regardless of the points system, the points leader after the penultimate race of the season usually races defensive during the last race of the year, and takes fewer risks, hoping to force the second-place driver to make a mistake. Usually the driver will race only to protect his points lead and win the championship, and not race for the win. Only twice since the modern Latford system was developed in 1975 has the points lead changed in the final race (1979 and 1992).

Actual Winner in Bold. In 2004 Kurt Busch would place 4th in the overall standings, 247 points behind Jeff Gordon

2004:2004 whatif at

Position Driver Old Points Chase
1st Jeff Gordon 5,042 3rd*
2nd Jimmie Johnson 4,995 2nd
3rd Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4,869 5th

2005:2005 whatif at

Position Driver Old Points Chase
1st Tony Stewart 5,199 1st*
2nd Greg Biffle 4,984 2nd
3rd Jimmie Johnson 4,771 5th

2006:2006 whatif at

Position Driver Old Points Chase
1st Jimmie Johnson 5,158 1st*
2nd Matt Kenseth 5,154 2nd
3rd Kevin Harvick 4,838 4th

2007:2007 whatif at

Position Driver Old Points Chase
1st Jeff Gordon 5,455 2nd*
2nd Jimmie Johnson 5,102 1st
3rd Tony Stewart 4,749 6th

2008:2008 whatif at

Position Driver Old Points Chase
1st Carl Edwards 5,236 2nd
2nd Jimmie Johnson 5,220 1st*
3rd Kyle Busch 4,984 10th

2009:2009 whatif at

Position Driver Old Points Chase
1st Jimmie Johnson 5,156 1st*
2nd Jeff Gordon 5,090 3rd
3rd Tony Stewart 5,085 6th

NOTE: In all instances, the current points system is used, not the pre-2003 points system where 175 points were awarded for a win. In 2004 and 2007 each, five additional points were added to the winner's points total, making it currently 185 points.

* Would be the points leader headed towards the final race. This is important because the points leader in the final race usually races only to protect his lead, and not go for the win. The driver's strategy would have changed if he had a smaller points lead than he actually had with the Chase system.


The chase format has taken some criticism. First, many are upset that the driver leading the points before the re-adjustment often loses the points lead with the most recent format. Some would like to see the "regular season champion" get some kind of reward. Also, many have criticized the tracks of which the Chase is held, most notably 4 of the 10 races are held at intermediate 1.5 mile tracks, yet no races are held at a road course. Some also criticize the inclusion of Talladega in the chase, as a restrictor plate track, is too unpredictable and too dangerous for inclusion in the chase. Others have noted that the current races (with a couple exceptions due to NASCAR Realignment and a lawsuit) only got chase races as they were the ten races at the end of the schedule when the format was adopted (the original format had two classic races, Atlanta in the fall and the prestigious fourth major, the Mountain Dew Southern 500, moved to November, instead of new races in Fontana and Texas as currently on the schedule). Another criticism was that most of the tracks were the tracks that Jimmie Johnson had the best finishing record (even though Johnson was only a third-year driver when the Chase began, of Johnson's Chase wins, he has won nine different Chase races since the Chase began -- Dover, Kansas, Fontana, Charlotte, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, and former Chase races in Atlanta and Darlington), thus giving Johnson an unfair advantage. Critics would like to see the races rotate year-to-year, similar the Super Bowl venue.

Driver Appearances in the Chase

As of 2009

  • Green = In the 2009 Chase
  • Bold = Retired or Not a full time competitor
  • Make and number in most recent Chase appearance
Rank Driver Times In Best Finish First Year Make # Chase Race Wins
1 Jimmie Johnson 6 1st 2004 Chevrolet 48 18
2 Tony Stewart 5 1st 2004 Chevrolet 14 5
3 Jeff Gordon 5 2nd 2004 Chevrolet 24 3
4 Matt Kenseth 5 2nd 2004 Ford 17 1
5 Kurt Busch 4 1st 2004 Dodge 2 2
6 Mark Martin 4 2nd 2004 Chevrolet 5 2
7 Carl Edwards 4 2nd 2005 Ford 99 7
8 Denny Hamlin 4 3rd 2006 Toyota 11 2
9 Greg Biffle 3 2nd 2005 Ford 16 6
10 Kevin Harvick 3 4th 2006 Chevrolet 29 2
11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 5th 2004 Chevrolet 88 2
12 Kyle Busch 3 5th 2006 Toyota 18 1
13 Ryan Newman 3 6th 2004 Chevrolet 39 2
14 Jeff Burton 3 6th 2006 Chevrolet 31 2
15 Clint Bowyer 2 3rd 2007 Chevrolet 07 1
16 Kasey Kahne 2 8th 2006 Dodge 9 1
17 Jeremy Mayfield 2 9th 2004 Dodge 19
18 Rusty Wallace 1 3rd 2005 Dodge 2
19 Juan Montoya 1 6th 2009 Chevrolet 42
20 Elliott Sadler 1 9th 2004 Ford 38
21 Martin Truex Jr. 1 11th 2007 Chevrolet 1
22 Brian Vickers 1 12th 2009 Toyota 83 1

"What If" Factor

In 2004 and 2007, Jeff Gordon managed to accumulate the most points of anyone. If such, Gordon would be 6-time NASCAR champion if the pre-chase system still stood. The same thing happened in 2008 when Carl Edwards scored more points than champion Jimmie Johnson, although that would have also been up for more discussion because of final-race strategy. In 2007 and 2008, Jimmie Johnson won the championship, tying Cale Yarborough for the record of most consecutive championships. Johnson would later go on to beat Yarboroughs record by winning four in a row in 2009.

It should be noted in 2008, Edwards' mythical 16-point difference would have turned into Johnson's 4-point win without the 20 extra points that took place for two additional wins, and in 2006, Johnson's 4-point win would have turned into Kenseth's 1-point win without the 5 extra points for Johnson having one more win than Kenseth.

Furthermore, strategy in the final race changes. The points leader usually goes into defensive mode for the final race, not taking risks and forces the second-place driver to run down the points leader. Gordon would have lead the points after the Mountain Dew Southern 500 (2004) by 62 points, Kenseth would have led by one point in 2006 (which would have created a more aggressive battle between Kenseth and Johnson), and Johnson leading by 76 points in 2008 (which Johnson would have driven differently as he held a 141-point lead with the Chase). Stewart (2005) and Gordon (2007) would have clinched before the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

See also


External links


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