Former Sprint Cup driver talks new rules

By John Bombatch Sports Editor jbombatch@civitasmedia.com

February 12, 2014

CINCINNATI — Ricky Craven’s mom finally gets it. Now he hopes area media representatives “get” NASCAR’s new changes to the Sprint Cup Championship format, too.

Craven, a former Sprint Cup driver himself and now a television racing analyst for NASCAR events, was at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse in downtown Cincinnati to discuss the upcoming season at Kentucky Speedway, and talk about the many changes the Sprint Cup series has implemented for the upcoming 2014 season.

NASCAR’s new Chase format places a stronger emphasis on winning races. It locks in 16 drivers who win during the season’s first 26 races with a chance to win the series title in the final 10 events of the season.

“I’m as excited about 2014 as I’ve ever been outside of a race car,” Craven said. “One of the things that is really really important for drivers is the idea of winning. … NASCAR’s rules changes this year, they’re broad, they’re deep and they have a lot of scale. But at the core of the changes, I think the emphasis has been placed on winning.”

The 25-year racing veteran said it took a little time for him to explain the changes to his mom.

“Win and you’re in,” Craven explained. “Even though her son no longer drives, my mother does not miss a race, but she didn’t understand the new system. So, at the risk of being redundant, but assuming there’s some of you out there who might be like my mom, I’m going to explain that the system is set up for the playoffs in four tiers.

Craven explained that there are going to be 16 qualifiers for the playoffs in The Chase this year. After the first three races (Sept. 14 in Chicago, Sept. 21 in New Hampshire and Sept. 28 in Dover), four drivers will be eliminated.

The points will be re-set, they’ll race three more races (Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega) and four more drivers will be eliminated to pare the field down to eight.

Then there will be three more races (Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix) where the final four drivers will remain in contention for the championship in one final event (Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami). The top finisher among the final four contenders in the Homestead-Miami race will become the 2014 Sprint Cup Series Champion.

“The significance is that, if you win a race in any of those early Chase races, you automatically qualify for the next round. Again, the emphasis is going to be on winning the race. … If you win, you automatically go on to the next round,” Craven said.

“For the first time, a driver in the Chase Era can actually qualify for the playoffs in February. If you win the Daytona 500, you’re in the playoffs. Along with that, comes that element of underdog, which we all appreciate. The guy that surprises you and comes from nowhere. This system rewards the driver who takes the risks, who empties the tank, who ultimately does everything he/she dreamed of doing. By winning a race, it rewards them by putting them in a position with 15 other drivers to ultimately win the championship,” he said.

If the format had been in place last season, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano would have all won races after 26 events and would qualify for the Chase.

Stewart had a season-ending injury and so his spot and the remaining three spots in the 16 would have been determined based on the non-winning drivers’ accumulated season points.

For more details on the new championship format, fans can go to NASCAR.com for a Fact Sheet and Frequently Asked Questions.

(An article about the upcoming racing season at Kentucky Speedway will run in Thursday’s newspaper.)