Thursday, September 12, 2013

Checkered Past: Ten Years of NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup


On Sunday, Sept. 15, the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, marking the 10th time NASCAR’s premier championship has been decided by a similar format. The Chase has changed over the years – the name, the number of “players,” the points system and the tracks – but the excitement, and sometimes the controversy surrounding it hasn’t.

The Chase has been known by three names since its creation in the off-season between 2003 and 2004. Originally referred to as the Chase for the Championship, new series sponsor NEXTEL stepped up to sponsor the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup from 2004 to 2007. From 2008 on, it’s been known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup after the merger of NEXTEL and Sprint.

The Chase was born of the desire to place more emphasis on winning during a season than on consistency. In the final year of the “old” points system, Matt Kenseth took the Winston Cup title with just one win, balanced out by 25 top 10 finishes. That same season, Ryan Newman won eight races and finished sixth in points. It seems almost amusing that, 10 years later, Kenseth’s the man at the top of the Chase seedings after an impressive five-win season with his new team, Joe Gibbs Racing.

Only twice has a defending champion not qualified for the following season’s championship run: in 2006, Tony Stewart failed to make the Chase after his 2005 title, while this season, reigning champ Brad Keselowski missed the playoffs. Only one driver has appeared in all 10 Chases for the Cup – five-time champ Jimmie Johnson.

Keselowski’s new Penske Racing teammate, Joey Logano, is making his first Chase appearance in 2013. The only driver to have won the Chase in his initial appearance was the winner of the first Chase for the NEXTEL Cup in 2004, Kurt Busch. Busch, a seven-time Chaser, made more history in qualifying for this year’s Chase by making Furniture Row Racing the first single-car team to make the playoffs.

Eight of the 10 tracks currently hosting Chase races have hosted them all 10 years: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Martinsville Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Texas Motor Speedway joined the Chase in the second season (2005), and Chicagoland Speedway joined in 2011. The original Chase also included Atlanta Motor Speedway (through 2008) and Darlington Raceway (2004 only); Auto Club Speedway in Fontana hosted the Chase twice (2009 and 2010).
 
For a thorough overview on NASCAR’s points system and qualifying for the Chase, check out this article from NASCAR.com, Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup Explained.

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