NASCAR planning Chase changes

Winning might just mean everything in the Sprint Cup Series going forward.

According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, NASCAR is planning an overhaul of its points system that makes it a virtual lock for drivers to reach the Chase for the Championship by posting a win during the season's first 26 races.

The newspaper, citing multiple sources briefed on the plan, reported that the Chase field would increase from 12 to 16 drivers under the restructuring.

If there were more than 16 winners during the "regular season," the 16 drivers with the most wins and highest point totals would qualify for the Chase. If there were less than 16 winners, the remaining spots would be comprised of the drivers with the most points.

The 10-race Chase playoffs then would feature a round of driver eliminations, according to the report. The proposal has the eliminations taking place after the third, sixth and ninth races of the Chase.

The four drivers with the lowest point totals after those respective races would be eliminated, leaving the Sprint Cup champion to be determined by a winner-take-all season finale between the final four remaining drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A statement from NASCAR chief communications officer Brett Jewkes was noncommittal on The Observer report.

"NASCAR has begun the process of briefing key industry stakeholders on potential concepts to evolve its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format," Jewkes said. "This dialogue is the final phase of a multi-year process that has included the review of extensive fan research, partner and industry feedback and other data-driven insights. NASCAR has no plans to comment further until the stakeholder discussions are complete. We hope to announce any potential changes for the 2014 season to our media and fans very soon."

Driver Denny Hamlin posted a series of tweets on Saturday afternoon that supported the format if NASCAR ultimately moves forward with the changes. NASCAR is expected to officially outline any changes later this month.

Hamlin also tweeted that every Chase race will now be as exciting as the September race at Richmond, which is the final race to set the Chase field. He also responded to two fans who criticized the format. One argued it was "artificially construed excitement" instead of the traditional consistency that NASCAR used for decades in crowning its champion.

"Consistency will keep you up top," Hamlin replied.

Hamlin received support from 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who replied on Twitter to him that he also liked the reported new format.

"Guess we may be in the minority here," Keselowski said.

NASCAR has been working feverishly behind the scenes to improve its on-track product, particularly at 1.5-mile tracks, and at least some changes are expected to the points system to meet NASCAR chairman Brian France's desire to put a greater emphasis on winning.

Despite introducing The Chase in 2004, NASCAR has failed to create many of those breathtaking "Game 7" moments in the finale. The debut was successful as Kurt Busch beat Jimmie Johnson for the title by eight points, and five drivers went into the 2005 finale mathematically eligible to win the championship.

Then Jimmie Johnson reeled off five consecutive championships, snapped only by Tony Stewart's race-winning, championship-deciding showing in the 2011 finale. Keselowski won easily in 2012 when Johnson was felled by mechanical problems, and it was Johnson, again, in an easy Sunday drive for win No. 6 in November.

So a shake up to the system wouldn't be unexpected. But it may not necessarily look like what The Observer reported -- the newspaper was clear the format is only being considered -- because it's not unlike NASCAR to float ideas to gauge reaction.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.