CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR is dramatically changing its format for the upcoming season, cutting every race into stages that reward points in hopes of making every lap matter and keeping fans interested.
The overhaul announced Monday assigns three stages to every race. The top 10 drivers at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 will be awarded points on a 10-through-1 scale. The third portion of the race will be for the overall victory, and although traditional point scoring will be applied for that stage, the win will be worth 40 points. The rest of the field will be scored on a 35 to 2 scale, and positions 36th to 40 will only receive 1 point.
All bonus points accumulated through the 26-race regular season can be used in the 10-race playoff, which will no longer be called "The Chase."
"There are no off weeks, every race matters, not only that, every lap of every race matters," said Denny Hamlin, one of the many drivers who participated in the panel that created this new format.
NASCAR spent nearly seven months working with a wide range of industry stakeholders to come up with the changes. Heavily involved were the television networks, retired drivers Jeff Gordon and Jeff, Burton, current drivers from the driver council and team and track executives. Monster Energy, which signed last month as the title sponsor for NASCAR's top series, was only informed of the shakeup in the last few weeks.
"If we created motorsports today, this is exactly how we would have done it," said 2012 champion Brad Keselowski. "Just wait until you see it on the race track. It's the best racing you'll ever see in your life."
The new format begins with the Feb. 26 season-opening Daytona 500.
NASCAR was energized by the changes, particularly the stages that will allow for a commercial break that doesn't occur during green-flag racing. Segment winners will be interviewed during the breaks, and NASCAR likes that it creates a pause that gives fans a chance to reset.
"As a driver, I'm happy to be rewarded for how I performed and not how I finished," said Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Race distances will not change under the format, which will apply to all three national series. Had NASCAR run the system this past season, Jimmie Johnson still would have won the title, but Martin Truex Jr. would have advanced one more round through the playoffs based on his two victories in the first round.
Among other changes:
— There will be no bonus points for leading a lap or for leading the most laps.
— The number of laps in each of the first two segments will be the same in a race, and the end of the second stage will be approximately at the halfway point of the race.
— Drivers will now earn bonus points that will be called playoff points and carry with them through the 10-race playoffs. Drivers will earn five playoff points for every race win and one playoff point for every segment win.
— The playoffs will remain divided into three three-race rounds with four drivers eliminated after each round to set up four finalists for the season finale, where the four finalists will not be eligible to earn segment victories.
— The exhibition duels during Speedweeks at Daytona next month will now be worth 10 points to the two race winners.
"Since NASCAR started, there has always been change," said Hall of Famer Richard Petty. "This new format just adapts to the current and next generation of fans. It's something to help create more excitement during the races. You have to put on a good race, a good show where people want to watch at home and enjoy coming to the track. Having two additional winning moments is a good step in that direction to keep the drivers competitive and fans excited throughout the race and season."
Mike Joy, FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer, said the change brought racing more in line with other sports like football (quarters), baseball (innings) and hockey (periods).
"The idea of trying to get the viewer in front of a TV set for 500 miles of straight competition has proven difficult in this century," Fox said. "People are consuming sports differently than ever before, and every sport is discussing evolving to suit the target audience. This race-stage format provides a better alternative than shortening races, because fans will still get their money's worth with just as much competition as previously."