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Will New NASCAR Format End Jimmie Johnson’s Reign?

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

This week NASCAR officials announced a new championship format for the 2014 Sprint Cup series that puts greater emphasis on winning and sets up a playoff elimination system at season’s end similar to other major league sports.

Consistency has always been rewarded in NASCAR and Jimmie Johnson has been the best at that – immediately becoming one of top drivers upon making his full time debut in the Cup series in 2002 and winning championships in six of the last eight years.

Although Johnson did not win the title in 2011 and 2012, the No. 48 team has clearly been the team to beat for the championship every year since NASCAR introduced the Chase format in 2004.

The new Chase for the Sprint Cup title expands the initial Chase field from 12 to 16, but eliminates four drivers from contention after every three Chase races. That will leave the final four drivers who will enter the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway with an equal chance at the title. The highest finisher among those four will win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship title.

Would Jimmie Johnson have have won the Chase last year under this new format? He would have been one of the final four contenders along with Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. But with the new first-to-the-finish line showdown in the last race, the third place finish by Earnhardt would have given Junior the title over Johnson who finished 9th.

No one knows how things will play out this year with the new format, but with the added emphasis on winning there is likely to be more action (wrecks) to take out the leader which will put more pressure on NASCAR officials to enforce (or not) the rules.

There is only one more change NASCAR needs to make. Move the last race of the season to February. Then the Daytona 500 would become the race that determines who wins the Chase for the Championship. It can’t get any better than that. You heard it here first.

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