DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR on Wednesday announced that it has added a wild-card element to setting the Chase for the Sprint Cup field and it has simplified its points system for 2011, making it easier for fans, competitors and the industry to understand.
While the 12-driver Chase field remains intact, the final two spots will be determined by the number of victories during the first 26 races.
The top 10 in points following Race No. 26 -- the "cutoff" race -- continue to earn Chase berths.
Positions 11 and 12 are "wild-card" qualifiers and will go to non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most victories, as long as they're ranked in the top 20 in points. The top 10 Chase drivers will continue to be seeded based on victories during the first 26 races, with each win worth three bonus points. The wild-card drivers will not receive bonus points for wins and will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively. It's a move aimed toward rewarding winning and consistency during the regular season.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France made the announcements at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., during the Sprint Media Tour.
"The fans tell us that winning matters the most with them, so we're combining the tradition of consistency in our sport with the excitement that comes along with winning," France said. "This makes every race count leading into the 26th race of the season at Richmond, when we set the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup."
The new points system -- which applies to all NASCAR national series -- will award points in one-point increments. As an example, in the Cup Series, race winners will earn 43 points, plus three bonus points for the victory. Winners also can earn an extra point for leading a lap and leading the most laps, bringing their total to a possible maximum of 48 points.
All other drivers in a finishing order will be separated by one-point increments. A second-place finisher will earn 42 points, a third-place driver 41 points, and so on. A last-place finisher -- 43rd place -- earns one point. In the Camping World Truck Series, the last-place finisher receives eight points, to account for that series' 36-driver race field.
"Many of our most loyal fans don't fully understand the points system we have used to date," said France, referencing the system that has been in use since 1975. "So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow."
During his remarks Wednesday night, France reflected on the outstanding competition the sport enjoyed in 2010 and expected to see that high caliber of racing to continue once the green flag drops for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.
"NASCAR enters 2011 with positive momentum and a great sense of excitement and optimism," France said. "We're extremely excited for the launch of the season. Leading the season off with Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas, we believe our fans are in store for some of the best racing the sport has to offer."
Other competitive enhancements announced Wednesday:
Pick a Series -- Drivers in all three national series now must select the series where they'll compete for a drivers' championship. Drivers still may compete in multiple series and help their teams win owners' titles in series where they're not competing for a drivers' title. The move helps spotlight young talent in the Nationwide and Truck series.
New Qualifying Procedure -- The qualifying order will be set based upon slowest-to-fastest practice speeds.
Inclement Weather Qualifying -- If bad weather cancels qualifying, the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds. The same rule book procedures will be used to determine eligibility to start a race. If weather cancels practice sessions, then the starting lineup will be set by points, per the rule book.
Tire Rules Revision -- Cup teams now are allowed five sets of tires for practice and qualifying instead of six. They must return four of those sets to Goodyear in order to receive their race allotment, and may keep one set of practice/qualifying tires. Tire allotments for race weekends will vary according to historical performance data.
Closed Loop Fueling System -- Introduced in the Truck Series, this goes into effect for all three national series in 2011. It combines a more efficient fueling system with the elimination of the catch-can man, considered the most "vulnerable" pit-crew member. Teams now will use six, rather than seven, over-the-wall pit-crew members.
Evolution of Cup Car -- NASCAR continues to work with the manufacturers and teams to enhance the look of the Cup Series car. The cars have new fronts this season and the body makeover will continue to help appeal to fans and aid manufacturer identity.