By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Let’s cut to the Chase.
Starting this year, the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will use elimination-based playoff formats to determine their respective champions, just as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has done for the past two seasons.
According to NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, the new approach not only builds on the resounding success of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but it also provides a training ground for drivers who ultimately will compete at NASCAR’s highest level.
“The idea is pretty simple,” France said. “When we looked at how successful the format is with the Sprint Cup Series, and the fact that drivers trying to win a championship in those lower divisions are trying to come up to the Sprint Cup, we know the way to win in the future … you’ve got to beat people, you’ve got to be winning, you’ve got to be in the crosshairs of elimination at any given moment.
“And that’s how we want our young drivers, at a very early stage, to understand the latest in the competitive style of NASCAR. So no better way to do that than to have our championship formats consistent, and that’s one of the main reasons we did that.”
The Chase formats in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will feature seven races each and two elimination rounds before the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but beyond that, they diverge in format. The XFINITY Series Chase starts with 12 drivers, four of whom are eliminated after each three-race round, leaving four drivers to race for the title at Homestead.
As with the Sprint Cup Series, the highest finisher among those four drivers in the season finale is the champion.
In the Truck Series, eight drivers will qualify for the Chase, with two drivers eliminated after each three-race round, again leaving four competitors to run for the championship at Homestead.
In detailing the fine points of the two new formats, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said the new format in the two lower national touring series would go a long way toward eliminating “points racing,” particularly in the championship race.
O’Donnell pointed out that Erik Jones won last year’s Truck Series title by taking care of his equipment and finishing sixth in the finale, given that he had a large enough lead to play it safe at Homestead. By definition, that will change under the new playoff format.
“The culture we want in our sport is to go out there and win the race, and I think everybody here in this room knows Erik Jones is capable of that,” O’Donnell said. “And we’re looking forward to seeing that type of racing when we get to Homestead in 2016, as well.”
CHASE FORMATS AREN’T THE ONLY INNOVATIONS
O’Donnell also revealed that NASCAR will implement a “caution clock” in the Camping World Truck Series. If 20 minutes of green-flag racing pass without a caution, the yellow will fly as a competition caution.
“We think it’s going to add to the strategy during the race, and if you look at the Camping World Truck Series, that’s an area where some of our younger drivers, younger teams, newer teams really can use the competition caution to be able to adjust on the truck,” O’Donnell said.
“We’ve seen that in the [Sprint] Cup Series when we’ve had a competition caution early in the race. It’s allowed the teams to make some last minute adjustments early in the race. We think that’s going to be huge for the teams, as well, and the trucks throughout the race and will be implemented throughout the season as we head into 2016.”
O’Donnell also announced a change to the format of the popular Dash 4 Cash bonus program in the XFINITY Series. After knockout qualifying, drivers will compete in two heat races (similar in concept to the Daytona Duel races in the Sprint Cup Series) to set the order for the main event.
The two highest-finishing series regulars from each heat are eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus in the main event, with the award going to the highest finisher of the four drivers. The four designated Dash 4 Cash races are the spring events at Bristol, Richmond and Dover, with the series ending at Indianapolis in July.
Drivers who win two or more of the four Dash 4 Cash bonuses will be all but assured of qualifying for the XFINITY Series Chase.
Image: Jeff Curry/Getty Images