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NASCAR widens Chase to 12

By Jenna Fryer

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — Kasey Kahne won a series-high five races during NASCAR’s regular season, yet barely qualified for the championship chase because of a points system that has long rewarded consistency over winning.

But under a series of adjustments announced Monday, the emphasis has been shifted to winning. In doing so, NASCAR might also have ensured that its biggest stars will almost always qualify for the Chase for the championship.

Beginning this season, the Chase will have 12 drivers — up from 10 — and the field will be seeded based on “regular-season” victories.

“We believe the Chase accomplished the original goal — it made racing more competitive, made every race … mean more and created more excitement,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said.

“The key issue for us today is the intersection between winning and consistency.”

It starts in the 26-race “regular season,” where wins now will be worth 185 points. That’s up five points from years past, and assuming the winning driver also picks up other bonuses during the race, a victory can be worth as much as 25 points more than second place.

In addition, those wins will be worth a 10-point bonus that will be used to “seed” the drivers when the 10-race Chase begins.

During the Chase’s first three years, the drivers’ point totals were reset in five-point increments when the postseason began. Now, all drivers’ totals will be reset to 5,000, and each will receive a 10-point bonus for each victory during the first 26 races.

In other words, Kahne would have received 50 points in bonuses and started last year’s Chase in first place.

And, with the field now at 12 drivers, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle both would have qualified.

The final outcome wouldn’t have changed, though: Jimmie Johnson still would have won the Nextel Cup title, but Stewart would have finished in second place — 16 points out.

France said the sanctioning body struggled with the numbers before finalizing this new version of the Chase.

“We looked at 10 points, 25 points, 50 points — we looked at what that might do,” France said. “What we found is, how delicate it is between the balance of winning and consistency and how careful we have (to be) to get that just right. We believe adding an additional five points (to race wins) strikes the best balance between winning and consistency.”

Reaction to the changes was mixed.

“I’m happy to see NASCAR increase the points for a winning a race — it makes winning that much more important, and after all, winning is what this sport is all about,” said car owner Richard Childress, who placed two drivers in the Chase last season.

Carl Edwards, who finished third in the 2005 Chase but failed to qualify last year, said the new system should make drivers more aggressive.

“Let’s say it’s three races to go until the Chase and we were second in points and everything looked great, like there’s no way we can finish worse than 12th in the points,” he said. “I’ll guarantee you we’ll go harder for those wins because now all you’re racing for is 10-point bonuses to start the playoffs with.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody in the garage who isn’t going for wins.”

But in expanding the field by another two drivers, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage wondered if it doesn’t dilute the competition.

“Long term, NASCAR has to make sure that they don’t go too far and water down the playoff field like we have seen in other sports,” Gossage said.

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