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NASCAR creates winner-take-all championship format

  • NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

    NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

  • NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

    NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

  • Drivers Kyle Busch, right, and Matt Kenseth, left, share a laugh during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

    Drivers Kyle Busch, right, and Matt Kenseth, left, share a laugh during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

  • NASCAR CEO Brian France, right, speaks to the media as NASCAR president Mike Helton, left, listens during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

    NASCAR CEO Brian France, right, speaks to the media as NASCAR president Mike Helton, left, listens during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

  • NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

    NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

  • NASCAR CEO Brian France talks to the media about the new points system during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

    NASCAR CEO Brian France talks to the media about the new points system during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

  • NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)
  • NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)
  • Drivers Kyle Busch, right, and Matt Kenseth, left, share a laugh during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)
  • NASCAR CEO Brian France, right, speaks to the media as NASCAR president Mike Helton, left, listens during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)
  • NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks to the media during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)
  • NASCAR CEO Brian France talks to the media about the new points system during a news conference at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Say goodbye to the NASCAR era when a driver, fresh off a satisfying, top-10 finish, climbs from the car and raves about what a good points day it was.

Winning is all that matters under the latest and most radical change to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

NASCAR’s overhauled championship format announced Thursday is a 16-driver, winner-take-all elimination system designed to reward “the most worthy, battle-tested” driver at the end of the season.

“Riding around and being pleased because the (previous) format rewards consistency, those days are going to be pretty much over,” NASCAR Chairman Brian France said.

The field, expanded from 12 to 16 drivers, will be whittled down to a final four through eliminations after every three races of the 10-race Chase. The remaining four drivers will go into the season finale with an equal chance to win the championship: The first of the four to cross the finish line will be crowned Sprint Cup champion.

It’s the fourth change to either the points or championship format since France created the Chase in 2004. For 28 years prior to the Chase, consistency reigned as the champion was the driver with the most points at the end of the season.

That ended a year after Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title with a single victory, and France began his pursuit of creating “Game 7 moments.” Along the way, he has pushed his agenda of wanting aggressive drivers chasing wins.

He’ll get that under the new format, which makes settling for points pretty much pointless.

Why? Because a win in the 26-race regular season virtually guarantees a berth in the Chase. Then, eliminations begin, and a driver can guarantee a trip to the next round with a victory.

Last August, Brad Keselowski chased Kyle Busch around Watkins Glen and declined to aggressively move his rival out of the way. Keselowski settled for second, racing for a good points day and declining to inflame his touchy relationship with Busch. But in doing so, he failed to win a regular-season race and missed the Chase, making him ineligible to defend his title.

Under the new format, a winless Keselowski would have no choice in that same situation but to bang fenders with Busch and go after the win.

That’s exactly what France wants to see on the track each week.

“This is pretty clear: You have to win, you have to compete at a higher level, you have to take more chances,” France said.

The changes were lauded by Julie Sobieski, vice president of league sports programming for ESPN, which will broadcast all 10 Chase races this year.

“We have long felt that there was a greater opportunity within the Chase and are in favor of an elimination format, which has been most effective in American sports,” she said.

Teams and drivers were briefed by NASCAR on the changes, and reaction was mostly positive.

“This took guts, this is a big deal,” said team owner Joe Gibbs, who saw his three Cup drivers combine for a series-best 12 wins last season.

Busch, who won four races and finished fourth in the standings, wasn’t as effusive.

“I don’t like to always be the Debbie Downer ... but some of the things they are doing, I’m not in agreement with,” Busch said, declining to be specific because he spoke before NASCAR unveiled the format.

He noted that Keselowski would have had incentive to wreck Busch at Watkins Glen, and said there are other scenarios NASCAR must now consider. He referred to last season, when, Kenseth opened the Chase with a win at Chicago, where Busch followed his teammate across the finish line for a 1-2 finish for Gibbs.

They again went 1-2 at New Hampshire the next week. But in the new format, that’s not necessarily good enough. Busch would instead be looking to win in such a scenario to ensure a trip to the next round.

Another twist: In the Kenseth-Busch scenario, it would have been in the best interest of Joe Gibbs Racing for Busch to win and, because the points reset after each round, meaning multiple victories by a driver in the Chase has no benefit — the team would have incentive to orchestrate a Busch victory over Kenseth.

“That would be a NASCAR gray area that they’d have to make a judgment call on,” Busch said.

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