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.”
Mar 9, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
A late strategy gamble pays off for Edwards with his best finish of the young Sprint Cup season.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
Kyle was strong during the Kobalt 400 but faded late, while Kurt couldn’t escape mid-pack.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:16 PM EDT
The Richard Childress Racing driver finishes third in a strong effort at Las Vegas.
Mar 9, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Joey Logano was the rubber band man in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Mar 9, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
With about 20 laps remaining, crew chief Steve Letarte warned race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. that he would be about a half-lap shy of enough fuel to finish Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
Bad Brad sweeps the NASCAR weekend in Sin City.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Kevin Harvick went from halfway to no way in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After leading the race at the 134-lap halfway point of the 267-lap event, Harvick’s bid for back-to-back wins came to an abrupt end when his No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet suffered a broken left front wheel hub…
Mar 9, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Richard Petty is going back home to Level Cross, N.C. – the Richard Petty Museum, that is.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
The automotive, motorsports and pro football worlds are mourning the death of William Clay Ford, who passed away Sunday from pneumonia, according to a company statement.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
The sports car organization ushered in its latest class last night in Charlotte.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
Leading the field at the halfway point of Sunday’s 267-lap Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, last week’s race winner at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick, is looking to make it two wins in a row.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
We all know how difficult it has been over the last six or seven years for teams in all forms of motorsports to obtain sponsorship. While it’s difficult for small teams, it even impacts the biggest of the big, too. NHRA Funny Car legend John Force is in such a predicament. After nearly 30 years with Castrol Oil and more than 15 years with Ford, drag racing’s biggest star ever will be losing both high-profile and high-dollar associations at the end of this season.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The 18-year-old Nationwide Series driver won last year’s K&N Pro Series East title.
Mar 9, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Pre-race crowd at Las Vegas appears to not know they have a Sprint Cup star among them…
Mar 9, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
The Texas-based firm provides processors for the ECUs that run the Sprint Cup cars’ fuel-injection systems.
Mar 9, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Former Ferrari and McLaren driver discharged from hospital over the weekend after skiing accident.
Mar 9, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT
Who are Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat and Marcus Ericsson?
Mar 9, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Heavy rain forecast for Australian Grand Prix; would be first wet race in almost 18 months.
Mar 9, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Australian driver ready to race in front of home crowd for the first time as a Red Bull driver.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:47 AM EDT
Spaniard laments lack of testing ahead of new era for Formula 1.
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