The annual Daytona 500 is undoubtedly NASCAR’s most prestigious event, but the 2014 classic on the famous 2.5 -mile Superspeedway will have added significance.
Sunday’s 56th annual Daytona 500 will be the first test for the recently announced revamped Chase championship playoff. Under the new Chase system, winning will be much more important than points in determining the final field for the Chase for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup title. The new Chase system contains these significant changes for the 2014 season:
1) Sixteen drivers, not 12, will contend in the 10-race Chase playoff. The field of 16 will be set after the Sept. 6 Richmond race. Drivers must have won a race in the first 26 to qualify. If 16 drivers haven’t won a race (very unlikely!), the highest ranked winless drivers will advance. A driver must have run all 26 regular-season races to qualify for the 2014 Chase.
2) The lowest-ranked drivers four Chase drivers after Chicagoland, Loudon, and Dover (the Challenge Round) are eliminated. The lowest-ranked four drivers after Kansas, Charlotte, and Talladega (the Contender Round) also are eliminated. Four more are eliminated after Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix (the Elimination Round), leaving four contenders for the final Championship Round at Homestead/Miami. Points are reset equally for the advancing drivers after each three-race round.
3) An additional surprise allows a Chase driver winning any three-race round to automatically advance to the next round regardless of his points position. If he doesn’t win in that subsequent round, he must fall back on his standings to advance to the next round. A win assures advancing into the next round during the remainder of the Chase.
4) The Fast Final Four start the FORD 400 at Homestead/Miami with equal points, with no lap-leader bonus points for them--not that it matters. What matters in the new system is that the driver who beats his three rivals in the final earns the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
Under the new format, 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski would not have missed last year’s Chase playoffs. By virtue of Keselowski’s win at Charlotte last year, the champion would have had the chance to defend his title. But, based on last year’s points Keselowski had no chance to make it two Sprint Cup titles in a row.
So when the green flag initiates the action in Sunday’s 56th annual “Great American Race”, drivers like Keselowski will be trying harder than ever to win the race, and also qualify for the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup title.
No doubt winning the 2014 Daytona 500 will have more significance to the drivers than ever. Sunday’s Daytona 500 may see the hardest racing in recent years at the famous speedway because of the new Chase system, and possibly result in a new era of racing at Daytona. It should be really interesting with all that is now at stake for all the drivers and teams.