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 1, 2014, 8:08 PM EDT
The Sprint Cup championship leader admits that his back may never “be the same” after suffering spasms in May at Charlotte.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:11 PM EDT
Townley has been released from a local hospital after a hard wreck in ARCA qualifying this morning, but he will not race in tomorrow’s Pocono Mountains 150 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Aug 1, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Will the 11 team adapt to interim crew chief Mike Wheeler? Plus, Kyle Petty shares his Victory Lane predictions for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono.
Aug 1, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT
One year ago, Kahne effectively put himself into the Chase with a win at Pocono. Another win on Sunday at the Tricky Triangle could do it again.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
Is his first career Sprint Cup win not too far off? Larson’s lap of 183.438 mph is enough to earn pole position for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400.
Aug 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: Kasey Kahne on his hunt for a Chase-clinching win; expectations for Denny Hamlin’s interim crew chief; Dale Jr. and IndyCar’s Graham Rahal visit National Guard soldiers; the many nuances of Pocono Raceway; Ty Dillon looks back on an extraordinary weekend at Indy.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:43 PM EDT
Larson and Peters go 1-2 in the first Truck practice, then flip-flop in the second practice at Pocono.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Former Pocono winner Kyle Petty explains the aspects that set Pocono apart from the rest of NASCAR’s tracks.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:10 PM EDT
Toronto winner leads second practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series on Friday.
Aug 1, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Kenseth’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, does not have regular crew chief Darian Grubb behind him this weekend, as Grubb has begun serving his six-race suspension.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
In the final part of our 2014 mid-season review, we look at the storylines that have defined the season so far and take a look at what we may be talking about come the end of the year.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Ives has won multiple Sprint Cup titles as an engineer for Jimmie Johnson, but will be making his Cup debut as a crew chief when he joins forces with Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
NASCAR drivers are known for trading paint, spinning out rivals and are seemingly always ready for a fight. And those are just some of the same elements that NASCAR drivers share with CEO’s of some of the best middle-market companies, according to a new story.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Busch posts a lap of 180.353 mph around the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Much like a frequent flier or frequent hotel guest program, JTG Daugherty has created the first ‘rewards program’ for fans to earn awards and prizes using engagement with the team and its sponsors through social media.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
In part two of our mid-season report, we look at the drivers: who has excelled and who has floundered in 2014?
Aug 1, 2014, 11:34 AM EDT
Multi-motorsports team owner Chip Ganassi will be honored August 7 in Corning, N.Y., for more than a quarter-century of contributions to the auto racing world.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Austin Dillon isn’t skating through his rookie season in Sprint Cup. Everything he achieves, he earns. But Dillon did try skating of a different kind and took to it like a natural.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT
The American goes P1 with a lap of 1 minute, 6.5316 seconds in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
We grade the eleven teams for their seasons so far as F1 embarks on its summer break.