NASCAR dials in new playoff system

NASCAR announced radical changes to its playoff system Thursday, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway is directly affected.

The speedway won’t be part of the 10-race format, but whichever driver wins the Kobalt 400 on March 9 at LVMS will almost be assured of qualifying for the postseason.

“We arrived at a format where any race matters,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said.

France said three objectives were achieved: greater emphasis on winning, simplifying the format and expanding the field.

Sixteen drivers now will qualify, four more than under the prior arrangement. The top 15 drivers with the most victories in the first 26 races are in, provided they are in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race.

The 16th spot goes to the points leader without a victory.

If there are fewer than 15 race winners, the rest of the field will be settled by points.

The first three races of the playoffs will be called the Challenger Round, with 12 drivers advancing. Then eight drivers move out of the three-race Contender Round, and four out of the Eliminator Round over the following three events. A victory by a Chase-eligible driver in any round means automatic qualification for the next one, with points filling out the remainder of the field.

The points are reset before each round so that all eligible drivers have an equal shot at winning.

In the final race, at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 16, the winning driver out of the four remaining racers in the Chase wins the series championship. Bonus points for laps led will not be given.

“Today’s NASCAR announcement represents a major step forward for our sport,” LVMS president Chris Powell said in a statement. “This new emphasis on winning and the ‘elimination format’ for the Chase put our sport more in line with others in how they crown champions. Any driver who can qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup and then run through the Chase gauntlet will truly have earned the championship.

“There now exists an opportunity for both the consistent performer as well as the driver who gets hot late in the season to win the title. The New York Giants of 2007 narrowly eked out an NFL playoff berth, and a month later they won the Super Bowl over the previously undefeated New England Patriots. The new Chase for the Sprint Cup format can yield such a rise from the ashes. It places the emphasis on winning — whether it’s at the Daytona 500, Las Vegas in March or anywhere else on the schedule.”

NASCAR also announced its newest Drive for Diversity class, a program designed to expand opportunities for young minorities and females.

Las Vegan Jay Beasley, 21, is part of the six-member class, and he will race in a K&N Pro Series this season. He won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Super Late Model championship last season at LVMS’ Bullring. In winning eight of 14 races, Beasley also received NASCAR’s Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.