Cut to The Chase

Behind NASCAR's postseason overhaul
January 27, 2014

Brian France has had a rough decade. The chairman of NASCAR has seen TV ratings for Sprint Cup races fall almost 50% since 2005, the same year France boasted that NASCAR was the second-most watched sport in America (even if baseball vigorously disputed the numbers). Attendance has dramatically plummeted as well, which was illustrated by the pockets of empty seats at the 2013 season finale at Homestead--Miami Speedway when Jimmie Johnson (above) cruised to his sixth title in the past eight years. Desperate to reignite interest in his sport, France is about to succumb to an urge that bosses under pressure often feel—the desire to make sweeping changes.

According to The Charlotte Observer, on Jan. 30, France will announce an overhaul of the Chase. The field will expand from 12 to 16, with a driver essentially earning a spot in the playoffs by winning one of the 26 regular-season races. (If there are more than 16 race winners, then the drivers with the most victories and most points will advance.) The Chase format, currently a 2½-month marathon during which drivers accumulate points over 10 races, will become an elimination-style event: The bottom four in the standings will be dropped after three races; four more will be gone after six races and four more after nine. The final race will be a winner-take-all dash among the remaining four drivers. For a sport that seems so straightforward—Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines, and we'll see you in 500 miles—this proposed new math for determining the champion isn't exactly elementary.

France angered old-school fans in 2004 when he scrapped the basic seasonlong points system that had been in place since 1949. He tweaked the Chase rules in 2011 by adding two wild cards to the playoffs, but it didn't give NASCAR the shot of adrenaline that France was searching for. So now the chairman will turn his big wrench one more time in the hope of creating, in his words, "Game 7 moments."

Fans already have complained on Twitter, one bashing the concept as "artificially constructed excitement." But ultimately France's radical makeover will be judged by one measure: whether or not it lures more eyes on Sunday afternoons.

THEY SAID IT

"I saw Snoopy and I thought, 'Wow, Snoopy. That's weird.'"

Frank Dancevic, Canadian tennis player, who became dizzy and began hallucinating before passing out in his first-round match at the Australian Open. In addition to stopping Dancevic—who was quickly revived and went on to lose to Benoit Paire—the Aussie heat (page 60) melted Caroline Wozniacki's water bottle and caused Jelena Jankovic to burn herself on an uncovered chair.

Mascot Math

Chicago Cubs Edition

(POOCHIE √ó TEDDY RUXPIN) + WINNIE THE POOH = Clark

PHOTOSIMON BRUTY/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JOHNSON) PHOTOAIJAZ RAHI/AP (DANCEVIC) PHOTOCHICAGO CUBS/AP (CLARK) PHOTODIC ENTERPRISES (TEDDY RUXPIN) PHOTOCOURTESY THE SIMPSONS/20TH CENTURY FOX (POOCHIE) PHOTOWALT DISNEY PICTURES/RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE/MARY EVANS/EVERETT COLLECTION (POOH)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)