Jan 28, 2014, 8:18 PM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR officials have heard the criticism for years, that the Chase for the Sprint Cup format has given Jimmie Johnson an unfair advantage, and that’s why he’s won six titles in the last eight seasons.
NASCAR officials have also seen at-track attendance, TV ratings and overall fan interest in the Chase decline in recent years.
Now with rumored changes to the Chase format expected to be announced Thursday in the final day of the annual NASCAR Media Tour, Johnson joked that perhaps those changes may be partly geared to slow him down or stop him from winning a seventh championship or more.
“It’s crossed my mind, I’m not going to lie to you,” Johnson said, before turning serious and adding, “I don’t think I’m the reason that things have declined in our sport and why viewership is down. And I don’t think NASCAR is picking on me and keeping me from winning a championship.”
On top of changes to qualifying announced last week by NASCAR, numerous media reports – and several Sprint Cup drivers have already alluded to possible changes during the first two days of the media tour – have the 10-year Chase format taking on a dramatic new look in 2014.
First is that the 12-driver field would be potentially be expanded to 16. Next, there would be elimination phases, with the likelihood of four drivers each being eliminated after the third, sixth and ninth races of the 10-race Chase.
That would set up a four-driver, winner-take-all season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, something Johnson endorses. If one of the four drivers wins the race, he’s crowned champion. If none of the four wins, the highest finisher would become the champ.
“You change the odds by 16 cars being in there, but in the postseason you have to win,” Johnson said. “And the champion has always won races and you have to win a lot. That’s how we’ve won our championships, so I don’t think a lot changes there.”
This would be the most significant change in Chase history.
“I was shocked to hear what was being proposed,” Johnson said. “It kind of caught me from left field. But if that’s the bullet we need, then I’m for it. We need our grandstands full, we need the (TV) viewership numbers to be through the roof and we need our sponsors getting the best return on their investment.
“I don’t know if this is it, we’ll find out. It’s certainly going to be exciting to shake things up and hopefully that brings eyeballs to what we do.”
Count Johnson’s teammate and car co-owner, Jeff Gordon, as being in favor of a new format.
And why wouldn’t Gordon be in favor of it? He might actually steal a championship away from Johnson, something Gordon hasn’t been able to do during Johnson’s reign. Gordon’s fourth and last Sprint Cup title was in 2001.
“It’s all about entertainment and I think this is definitely a big step toward keeping the entertainment factor very, very high,” Gordon said. “I love (NASCAR’s new) qualifying procedure. I’ve been a big fan of knockout qualifying in Formula One for a number of years and I think it’s fantastic and I can’t wait for us to get that started. We still have to walk through it a few times before we really see how it works in NASCAR, but all in all, I think everybody’s going to be very entertained, including the drivers.”
The rumored changes also get Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s approval.
“If this thing creates a lot of storylines, that’s good for the sport and keeps the fan interest going throughout the season,” Earnhardt said. “I’m excited about it.”
Like Johnson, Earnhardt even paused to inject some levity to a change that the sanctioning body hopes fans will embrace.
“I wasn’t really excited about change that much up until a lot of change started happening,” Earnhardt said with a laugh. “You kind of had to get used to it. Now, let’s just change it all. I’m all for it.”
Johnson hopes fans give any changes a chance, particularly since it’s been fans that have clamored for changes to the Chase in recent years.
“When the Chase came along, it was a significant change that helped in a lot of ways,” Johnson said. “And then we’ve seen some minor changes since that haven’t really moved the needle. In my opinion, many share the same opinion that something big needed to happen. Here it is, we think it’s going to be this and we’ll find out soon. Something big needs to happen, and something big is going to happen.”
Aug 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Defending world champion qualifies a distant third behind the two Mercedes cars on Saturday at Spa.
Aug 23, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
2008 world champion secures his first top five qualifying result since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June.
Aug 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Mercedes locks out the front row of the grid for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June, with Rosberg claiming pole at one of the sport’s most famous circuits.
Aug 23, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Lewis wants to beat Rosberg when the German is at the peak of his powers, as the two drivers fight for this year’s F1 world title.
Aug 23, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT
German driver takes pole at a damp Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon.
Aug 23, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
The Ferrari driver took the plunge after being nominated by Felipe Massa and soccer player Juan Manuel Mata.
Aug 23, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT
You can watch qualifying from Spa-Francorchamps live on CNBC and Live Extra from 8am ET.
Aug 23, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
The Daytona round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross is a key one and kicks off the second half of the 2014 season. Here’s more from Kristen Kenney heading into the weekend.
Aug 23, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT
Sainz was expected to get the Toro Rosso drive, but was rejected in favor of 16-year-old Max Verstappen.
Aug 23, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT
Red Bull’s chief technical officer isn’t getting his hopes up for this weekend’s race at Spa.
Aug 23, 2014, 6:03 AM EDT
Williams finishes practice for the Belgian GP with a flourish.
Aug 23, 2014, 4:45 AM EDT
One final chance for the drivers and teams to get to grips with Spa ahead of qualifying later today.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:09 AM EDT
Dramatic day for Pro Mazda, USF2000 Friday in Sonoma.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
Ryan Blaney passed Kyle Busch with six laps left in Friday night’s Food City 300 Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and then held on the rest of the way to earn his second career NNS victory.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Update (8:30 p.m. ET): The engines have been fired and tonight’s Food City 300 is ready to roll.
Aug 22, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
The Bowtie has won the IndyCar manufacturer’s title in all three seasons since returning to North American open-wheel racing in 2012.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:54 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon looked like he had the pole for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. But Kevin Harvick had other ideas.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
At 7-feet tall, ESPN NASCAR analyst, team co-owner and former NBA star Brad Daugherty is a formidable presence. He’s also known to play a practical joke every now and then.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Unpredictable weather conditions have impacted the Food City 500 in its March spot, which the event has had since the 2005 season.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will be officially presented on Tuesday, August 26 at 5 p.m. ET on a special 60-minute edition of NASCAR AMERICA.
Video from NASCAR America
- Rosberg tames wet conditions to claim Belgian GP pole 0
- Bottas breaks Mercedes’ stranglehold at Spa by topping FP3 0
- Ryan Blaney passes Kyle Busch on final restart, hangs on to win Nationwide race at Bristol 1
- Kevin Harvick edges Jeff Gordon for Bristol Sprint Cup pole 1
- Will A.J. Allmendinger seek payback for Brad Daugherty’s practical joke? 1
- 2015 NASCAR Schedule to be Revealed Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET, on special NASCAR AMERICA 0
- Rossi disappointed, but diplomatic, after Marussia no-go 1