NASCAR finalizing plan to change Chase field to 12

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Staying within 400 points of the lead no longer will be a factor to get in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

A source close to NASCAR said the governing body is finalizing a plan that will allow the top 12 in points in the 10-race playoff with no provision for how many points a driver is from the lead.

The top 10 and anybody within 400 points after 26 races qualified for the playoff during the first three years of the Chase.

But because the 400-point margin hasn't been a factor -- seven or fewer drivers were within that range from 2004-06 -- NASCAR decided to set a hard number.

Barring a last-minute change, that number will be 12. NASCAR also will award 10 more points to the winner after running several models that showed after 10 the system created more runaway scenarios.

An official announcement will come later this month at the media tour in Charlotte.

Having 12 drivers would have kept four-time champion Jeff Gordon from missing the Chase in 2005 and two-time champion Tony Stewart from missing it last year. Gordon was 12th after 26 races and Stewart 11th.

Kasey Kahne is afraid expanding the field to 12 will reduce the drama at Richmond, where the field is set, because fewer drivers will be within striking distance.

In 2004, drivers between eighth and 15th were separated by 76 points going to Richmond. That meant five of eight drivers were at risk of missing the playoff, a number that would be reduced to three with 12 guaranteed spots.

A year ago, positions six through 11 were separated by 77 points but sixth through 12 were separated by 273.

"There was as much pressure for me going into the final five races as I've ever had," said Kahne, who was on the bubble going to Richmond despite having a series-high five wins. "It was exciting.

"I think 10 guys is pretty good. From sixth to probably 13th was pretty close. If you put more in, there won't be quite so much on the line."

NASCAR officials considered putting in a provision that would allow a driver with the most wins outside the Chase in the playoff, but decided against it.

They also decided against expanding the 400-point margin to another figure such as 500.

Kevin Harvick, who won the Busch Series title and finished fourth to Jimmie Johnson in the Cup Series, is fine with whatever system NASCAR picks.

"In the end, the guy who had the best year won the championship," he said of Johnson. "If we had the old points system he'd have won the championship."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.