By AMANDA VINCENT
NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell told Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio on Monday that the sanctioning body is seriously considering a championship structure that would reward a “regular season champion.”
“I’d say very serious consideration, and it’s not just snapping your fingers,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a lot of things that need to go into it, but a lot of those things have already happened with conversations. Not there yet. Not ready to announce anything.”
Under the current system, the points leader at the end of the “regular season” (the first 26 races of the 36 points-paying race season in the Sprint Cup Series) is guaranteed a spot in the Chase, whether or not he/she has a race win. That’s the only perk not offered to other drivers, but it’s a near-certainty that the points leader would get into the Chase by virtue of points, anyway. It’s highly unlikely that there would be 16 race winners in the first 26 races to completely fill the 16 available Chase berths.
Kevin Harvick was the points leader after the 26th race, ran last month, and held the points lead through most of the “regular season.” After the cut-off for the Chase at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Harvick held a 46-point lead over second-place driver, Brad Keselowski, but when points were adjusted to start the Chase, Harvick fell to fourth behind Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, because those three drivers posted more wins than Harvick in the first 26 races.
“One of the things we’re looking at is, in the first 26 races, are there some additional things we could do for the winner of the regular season,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s certainly fair for us to look at, and we are.”
Any changes possibly implemented to reward a “regular season” champion could also be implemented in NASCAR’s other two national series — Xfinity and Camping World Truck — as those two series went to a chase format this season.
“Certainly taking a strong look at that for all three series for next year, as well,” O’Donnell said.
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