Jan 28, 2014, 8:18 PM EST
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.”
Nov 28, 2014, 7:16 PM EST
Red Bull GRC champs Olsbergs MSE has their drivers second and fourth in the standings so far.
Nov 28, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
Put down your shopping bags, heat up some Thanksgiving leftovers, and tune in for a Black Friday edition of NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN.
Nov 28, 2014, 4:31 PM EST
Mark Webber fastest in second practice for WEC at Interlagos.
Nov 28, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
Porsche 919 Hybrids run 1-2 in the first session at Interlagos.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
The end of the WEC season occurs this weekend in Brazil.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:45 PM EST
We take a look back at some of the biggest stories in Formula 1 this year.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Rico Abreu locks up USAC Honda Midget Series title with fifth-place finish in Thanksgiving classic.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Alonso proved once again in 2014 that he has ability exceeding that of the Ferrari car, but even he couldn’t make up for the shortcomings of the F14 T.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:11 PM EST
Spanish driver to race alongside Max Verstappen in 2015, stepping up to make his F1 debut.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Red Bull may have been underdogs after winter testing, but few could have predicted Sebastian Vettel’s bid for a fifth world title being as weak as it was.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
After a difficult rookie season, Bottas’ sophomore year in F1 brought far more success, marking the Finn as a possible champion in the future.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Kvyat will replace Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull next year.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Nico Hulkenberg and Porsche: a win for both the WEC and F1 in a rare moment of motorsport unity for the common good.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
What a year it was for Daniel Ricciardo in his first season at Red Bull.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Talks about a new contract with Mercedes should be brought forwards after title win.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
A worthy title contender, Nico Rosberg enjoyed his most successful season to date in 2014.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
2014 saw the Briton become a two-time F1 world champion, winning 11 races.
Nov 28, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
A new regime will come into force at Maranello next season following a disappointing campaign in 2014.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
British racer will remain with Williams for 2015 after becoming the first woman to take part in a grand prix weekend session in 22 years over the summer.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:46 PM EST
NHRA team owner Don Schumacher underwent surgery Wednesday for early-stage skin cancer.
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