The less than orthodox ending to Sunday’s NASCAR Food City 500 Sprint Cup Race on Sunday apparently did nothing to dampen the high spirits of Carl Edwards, who did his trademark backflip after earning his first win of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway, and his third career victory at this popular NASCAR venue. Second place went to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., followed by Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose respectively. After leading for 44 laps, Jimmie Johnson entered the pits with tire problems, and with a caution for rain in his team’s subsequent pit cycle Johnson slipped to 39th place, eventually finishing the race in the 19th spot.
With two-and-a-half laps remaining, and Edwards quite comfortably in the lead, the caution lights came on and drivers responded by slowing down. As NASCAR officials tried to figure out what prompted the caution, heavy rain started falling and the race was declared over at 503 laps, with Edwards being declared the winner. While it is agreed that the early finish had no impact on the outcome, it left NASCAR officials with some explaining to do.
Initially it was suggested that the excessive rainfall had shorted the system in some way, but then it was discovered that one of the people manning the flag stand had leaned on the manual override switch for the caution lights and switched them on. In response, the flag man raised the caution flag and the field was frozen from the tower. NASCAR’s vice president of competition and racing development, Robin Pemberton, later described the incident as a “stupid error”. In a post-race interview, Edwards noted that NASCAR officials are called upon to make a lot of tough calls, going on to say that he was “glad to be part of something where they say, ‘Hey, we just screwed up.’”
The standings in the 2014 Sprint Cup series so far are Brad Keselowski in the number one spot, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson. With competition this stiff so early in the season, there is plenty of excitement up ahead for NASCAR enthusiasts.
The possibility of NASCAR reinventing the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has drawn commentary from many quarters – some positive, but more leaning toward the negative. It’s no secret that NASCAR chairman Brian France wants the focus to be on winning races rather than the accumulation of points, and has made some adjustments over the years to the original format introduced in 2004 to achieve this goal. The latest proposal, however, is the most drastic of all and will change the series completely if it is introduced.
The proposal reportedly includes increasing competitors in the Chase for the Sprint Cup from 12 to 16, with a win in any of the season’s first 26 races putting a driver in line for entry into the championship. Should there be more than 16 winners in those 26 races, then the 16 drivers with the most wins as well as the highest in points would qualify for the Chase. Once the field for the Chase was established, a round of elimination races would whittle competitors down to 4 for the final winner-takes-all race. The elimination races would take place after the third, sixth and ninth races of the Chase with 4 drivers being eliminated each time and the remaining 4 drivers going into the final race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway with points reset and tied in the Sprint Cup standings.
When asked to comment on the proposed changes, vice president and chief communications officer of NASCAR, Brett Jewkes, was quoted as saying that NASCAR had started the “process of briefing key industry stakeholders on potential concepts to evolve its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format.” He went on to state that the briefing was the final phase of extensive research, feedback and “data-driven insights”.
The point has been made that implementing these changes would make historical comparisons impossible as the formats are too different. Also, the championship title would lose its value if the final race is the decider, rather than awarding it to the driver who has shown skill and endurance through the season under varying conditions and on different tracks, thereby gaining points. Some observers have noted that it’s entirely possible NASCAR is putting the idea out there to gauge response before making an official announcement. With the 2014 Sprint Cup Season starting in February, fans won’t have long to wait to find out if a new format is on the cards for 2014.