Chase for the Sprint Cup

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, akin to the postseason in American professional sports leagues. 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 starting with the 2007 season. 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. A major change to the qualifying criteria was instituted in 2011, along with a major change to the points system. As of 2011, the 10-race Chase pits the 10 drivers with the highest "regular season" points, plus the two drivers ranked between 11th and 20th in regular season points who have the most race wins, against each other, while racing in the standard field of 43 cars. The driver with the most points after the final 10 races is declared the champion.


Sprint Cup/Nextel 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 26, 2011.[3] The current format marks a major change from the previous format announced January 22, 2007, which in turn modified the original Chase format announced on January 21, 2004. The 2011 change marks the 13th time since 1949 that the point system has been changed.[2]

2004 – 2010

Before the changes implemented for 2011, the Chase qualifiers were the 12 top-ranked drivers, as determined by points accumulated during the season. The 12 drivers' championship points were 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. During the Chase, normal scoring applied, with drivers who won a race receiving 185 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."

2011 – Present

After 26 "regular season" races, the top 10 drivers, as determined by points accumulated during the season, automatically advance to contend for the Cup championship. These drivers are joined by two "wild card" qualifiers, specifically the two drivers ranked from 11th through 20th in drivers' points who have the most regular-season race wins. The 12 drivers' championship points are reset to a base of 2,000 per driver. Each of the 10 automatic qualifiers receives a bonus of 3 points for each win during the regular season, while the two wild card qualifiers receive no bonus. Normal scoring applies during the Chase, with race winners earning 43 base points plus 3 bonus points, all drivers who lead a lap earning 1 bonus point, and the driver who leads the most laps earning 1 bonus point in addition to any other points earned.[4]

As in all previous Chases, the driver with the highest point total at the conclusion of the 10-race Chase is the Sprint Cup champion.

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 the 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 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 way of a 3-way track change, Talladega Superspeedway moved to a later date, Atlanta Motor Speedway moved to the Labor Day weekend date, and Auto Club Speedway moved to a later date inside the Chase (starting 2009).[5]

In 2011, as part of a substantial schedule realignment, a number of further changes occurred in the Chase:[6]

Track City 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Chicagoland Speedway Joliet, IL - - - - - - - 1
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Loudon, NH 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2
Dover International Speedway Dover, DE 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3
Kansas Speedway Kansas City, KS 4 4 3 3 3 3 3 4
Charlotte Motor Speedway Concord, NC 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Talladega Superspeedway Talladega, AL 3 3 4 4 4 7 7 6
Martinsville Speedway Ridgeway, VA 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 7
Texas Motor Speedway Fort Worth, TX - 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
Phoenix International Raceway Avondale, AZ 8 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
Homestead-Miami Speedway Homestead, FL 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
Atlanta Motor Speedway Hampton, GA 7 7 7 7 7 - - -
Auto Club Speedway Fontana, CA - - - - - 4 4 -
Darlington Raceway Darlington, SC 9 - - - - - - -
  • The North Carolina track was known as Lowe's Motor Speedway from 1999 to 2009. After the 2009 season, Lowe's chose not to renew its sponsorship contract, causing the track to revert to its original name of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Comparisons of formats of The Chase

The Chase for the Nextel Cup was created in 2004 by NASCAR when Nextel started to sponsor the series. In the 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.

The current points system implemented in 2011 determines The Chase by selecting the top 10 drivers points positions followed by 2 additional drivers with the most wins in points positions 11 through 20 after 26 races. These 12 drivers have their points set to 2000; the top 10 drivers are given 3 bonus points for each win they had during the first 26 races.

2004 to 2010 Results under the 2011 System

Actual Winner in Bold.

2004:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Jimmie Johnson 2372 2nd
2nd Kurt Busch 2372 1st
3rd Jeff Gordon 2366 3rd

2005:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Tony Stewart 2378 1st
2nd Carl Edwards 2374 3rd
3rd Greg Biffle 2369 2nd

2006:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Jimmie Johnson 2357 1st
2nd Tony Stewart 2355 11th
3rd Matt Kenseth 2352 2nd

2007:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Jimmie Johnson 2430 1st
2nd Jeff Gordon 2413 2nd
3rd Clint Bowyer 2336 3rd

2008:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Jimmie Johnson 2418 1st
2nd Carl Edwards 2396 2nd
3rd Greg Biffle 2362 3rd

2009:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Jimmie Johnson 2405 1st
2nd Mark Martin 2374 2nd
3rd Jeff Gordon 2366 3rd

2010:post at

Position (2011 System) Driver Points (2011 System) Actual Position
1st Jimmie Johnson 2403 1st
2nd Denny Hamlin 2398 2nd
3rd Kevin Harvick 2396 3rd

2006 Chase Contenders and Seedings in 2006 and 2007 Systems

Old Points System – 2006 Pre Chase Seedings

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 Pre Chase Seedings, 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.

Old System What If Champions

2004: Jeff Gordon * Would have given Gordon his 5th career title and the seventh title for car owner Rick Hendrick. 2005: Tony Stewart * First driver in NASCAR history to win both old points format and Chase system. 2006: Jimmie Johnson * Johnson wins title either way in 2006. 2007: Jeff Gordon * Gordon's 6th career title. The 8th title for Hendrick and three of the last four. Wins by over 350 points. 2008: Carl Edwards * Edwards dethrones Johnson by 16 points for first title. 2009: Jimmie Johnson * Johnson gets 2nd title beating Gordon by 66 points. 4 of the last 6 for Hendrick. Title #9 2010: Kevin Harvick * Dominated the entire season beating Johnson by over 200 points. 2011: Carl Edwards * Edwards takes 2nd title in four seasons after clinching title at Phoenix after finishing 2nd to Kasey Kahne. Johnson finishes runner-up in the points for the sixth time.


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, it 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 the 2010 Ford 400

  • Green = In the 2011 Chase
  • Bold = Retired or no longer a full time competitor
  • Make, number and team in most recent Chase appearance
Rank Driver Times In Best Finish First Year Make # Team Chase Race Wins
1 Jimmie Johnson 8 1st 2004 Chevrolet 48 Hendrick Motorsports 19
2 Tony Stewart 7 1st 2004 Chevrolet 14 Stewart Haas Racing 6
3 Jeff Gordon 7 2nd 2004 Chevrolet 24 Hendrick Motorsports 3
4 Matt Kenseth 7 2nd 2004 Ford 17 Roush Fenway Racing 1
5 Kurt Busch 6 1st 2004 Dodge 22 Penske Racing 2
6 Carl Edwards 6 2nd 2005 Ford 99 Roush Fenway Racing 8
7 Denny Hamlin 6 2nd 2006 Toyota 11 Joe Gibbs Racing 4
8 Kevin Harvick 5 3rd 2006 Chevrolet 29 Richard Childress Racing 2
9 Kyle Busch 5 5th 2006 Toyota 18 Joe Gibbs Racing 1
10 Mark Martin 4 2nd 2004 Chevrolet 5 Hendrick Motorsports 2
11 Greg Biffle 4 2nd 2005 Ford 16 Roush Fenway Racing 7
12 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 4 5th 2004 Chevrolet 88 Hendrick Motorsports 2
13 Ryan Newman 4 6th 2004 Chevrolet 39 Stewart Haas Racing 2
14 Jeff Burton 4 6th 2006 Chevrolet 31 Richard Childress Racing 2
15 Clint Bowyer 3 3rd 2007 Chevrolet 33 Richard Childress Racing 3
16 Kasey Kahne 2 8th 2006 Dodge 9 Richard Petty Motorsports 1
17 Jeremy Mayfield 2 9th 2004 Dodge 19 Evernham Motorsports 0
18 Rusty Wallace 1 8th 2005 Dodge 2 Penske Racing 0
19 Juan Montoya 1 8th 2009 Chevrolet 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing 0
20 Elliott Sadler 1 9th 2004 Ford 38 Robert Yates Racing 0
21 Martin Truex, Jr. 1 11th 2007 Chevrolet 1 Dale Earnhardt Incorporated 0
22 Brian Vickers 1 12th 2009 Toyota 83 Team Red Bull 1
23 Brad Keselowski 1 N/A 2011 Dodge 2 Penske Racing 0

Non-Chase Drivers to Win a Chase Race

Rank Driver Times In Best Finish First Year Make # Team Chase Race Wins
1 Jamie McMurray N/A N/A N/A Chevrolet 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing 2
2 Joe Nemechek N/A N/A N/A Chevrolet 01 MB2 Motorsports 1
3 Dale Jarrett N/A N/A N/A Ford 88 Robert Yates Racing 1

See also


External links

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