What is The Chase?
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is NASCAR's answer to the excitement of the playoffs found in other sports.
For the last ten races of the season all qualifying drivers have their points manually set. The Chasers will have their points set to 5,000 plus ten points for every race that they won during the first 26 races of the season. For example, If you finish the first 26 races in the top twelve in points and have won three races so far that season then you would start The Chase with 5,030 points.
For the last ten races, NASCAR points are still assigned the same way as the rest of the season to determine the champion.
Since any lead a driver had in the points is automatically erased this format almost guarantees that the points battle will come down to the very last race. Usually multiple drivers still have a shot at winning the Championship right up until the very last lap. This has added a lot of excitement to the end of the NASCAR season.
Who Qualifies for The Chase
After the 26th race of the season, before The Chase begins, all drivers in the top twelve in points qualify for The Chase.
Why The Chase Exists
In 2003 Matt Kenseth ran away with the NASCAR Championship. Unfortunately Matt had such a huge lead in the points that the entire end of the season was robbed of most of its drama. While this was the most recent, glaring example of a points blowout, it wasn't the only one.
These bad point races were bad for television ratings and ticket sales. As a result NASCAR came up with The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format and implemented it beginning with the 2004 season. Although it was met with some skepticism, no one can argue that is has added a lot of excitement to the end of the season.
The Consolation Prize
In order to encourage drivers who missed The Chase, NASCAR awards a one million dollar bonus to the driver that finishes thirteenth in the points. That driver also gets invited to the end of year banquet to accept his prize.
All drivers not in The Chase continue on with their existing points during the final ten races. To encourage competition, their points are not manually set.
Why The Chase Is Important
The only way to have a chance to win the Sprint Cup Championship is to be in The Chase. Drivers work for years to have a chance to win a title. To barely miss The Chase cutoff and have to wait another full year to have a chance to win a Championship is painful for a driver.
Also, for those last ten races of the year all of the media attention is focused on The Chase. Obviously, sponsors want that additional exposure that a Chase driver gives them. Since sponsors pay all of the bills it is critical for teams to do all they can to get into The Chase.
While this format has generated extra excitement it has also put extreme pressure on drivers to get into the top twelve in points and stay there. As the NASCAR season races towards the Chase cutoff the pressure becomes intense for those locked in battle for the final Chase spots.