Leaves are turning, the air is cooling and NASCAR fans are revved up about the Chase—the championship series of races that decides this year’s winner of the Sprint Cup. Here’s a quick primer to get you prepared.
The Point System
The first 26 races (of 36) in the NASCAR season are dedicated to accumulating points. Drivers earn a base number of points for their finish in each race, plus bonus points for leading a lap, leading the most number of laps and winning a race. Winning earns the most points (and virtually locks a driver into the Chase), but drivers are also rewarded for consistently finishing high in the standings and leading laps.
In the second half of the season, drivers go after more than just points—they want to win and earn a spot in the Chase Grid, similar to a playoffs bracket. Only drivers on the Grid are eligible to win the Sprint Cup. The Grid is open to the top 15 drivers who have both the most wins over the season and are among the top 30 in the points standings. The sixteenth spot goes to the driver who is highest in the points standings but doesn’t have a win. Drivers who don’t make the Grid cannot win the championship, but still race until the end of the season. “We don’t have anything to lose, so we go hard 100 percent of the time,” says driver Casey Mears, whose GEICO No. 13 car is not on the Grid this year. “The Chase guys really need to collect points, so we can be aggressive around them.”
The Chase Grid
Once the Grid is set, the Chase plays out over the last 10 races of the season. The first nine are divided into three elimination rounds: Challenger (which kicked off September 20 at the Chicagoland Speedway), Contender (which started October 10 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway) and Eliminator (which begins November 1 at the Martinsville Speedway). Each round has three races; if a driver wins a race, he or she automatically advances to the next round. Otherwise, the bottom four drivers in the points standings from that round are eliminated at the end of the round. After the Eliminator Round, the Grid narrows from 16 to just four drivers, who will race for the championship at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22.
With the variety of tracks, there’s a different challenge every weekend. Talladega Superspeedway, home to the Alabama 500 on October 25, lives up to its name—it’s the only Chase track where cars use restrictor plates to keep their top speeds down. “It’s hard to come out of Talladega without getting caught up in the ‘big one’ [a multi-car crash],” says Mears. Martinsville Speedway, site of the first event in the Eliminator Round, is “fun to drive, but can be challenging on your equipment because of tight corners and hard braking,” he adds. For the championship race, the Chase heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway (home to more than 1,000 palm trees, four manmade lakes and 20º banked turns). It all comes down to winning here: the first of those four to cross the finish line wins the Sprint Cup.
Who will take home the sterling silver trophy this year? Tune in on November 22 to find out.
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