How the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Works

In the year 2004, NASCAR implemented a revolutionary new concept: bringing the playoffs from team sports into auto racing. They called their new creation the “Chase for the Nextel Cup,” now known as the “Sprint Cup.”

The concept has changed several times as NASCAR tweaks the rules to make the last races of the series more exciting, knowing that any driver can come away with the championship for the year. Today, the rules are perhaps the most exciting, with more drivers being eligible to compete and a series of deadlines leading to more drama and eliminations.

How the Chase Works

Beginning in the year 2014, the Chase for the Sprint Cup was expanded to include 16 drivers. Those drivers include everybody who wins a race during the season. If there are fewer than 16 different drivers to win a race, then the remaining spots are filled out by the drivers without a win but who have the most points on the year.

As the chase progresses, drivers are eliminated after certain thresholds. The first comes after three races, where the four drivers with the lowest point total and without a win through those three races are eliminated.

This leaves the field at 12 drivers who then move on. This round is also three races long, and just like the previous round the four drivers with the lowest point totals and no wins are eliminated from contention.

The process happens one final time in the equivalent to a “semi-final” round. Once the final bottom-four are eliminated, this leaves one final race and four drivers left. In that final race, whoever has the best finish claims the championship trophy.

However, this does not mean that the field shrinks for these drivers. A full field of over 40 cars starts every single race, including those who have already been eliminated from the Chase, and those who made it in the first place. This makes it a challenge for drivers who are competing, as they have to fight for positions in every race of the case, just like they would during a non-chase race.

Tracks in the Chase

The Chase for the Sprint Cup features just about every type of track that NASCAR visits in order to really test the drivers for their skill and consistency across all types of races. The only type of track they do not use is road courses, such as Watkins Glen and Sonoma Raceway. The chase includes several high-bank tracks (Chicagoland and Texas), a superspeedway (Talladega), a short, low-bank track (Martinsville), some non-oval shapes (Phoenix and Charlotte) and some perfect ovals (Dover and Homestead Miami).

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