NASCAR Playoffs a hit in first year
From the first lap at Chicagoland to the last lap at Homestead, the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship was filled with lots of drama and excitement, thanks to NASCAR's new playoff format.
NASCAR instituted a playoff format for its premier series in 2004, but prior to the start of this season, the sanctioning body made radical changes to its 10-race postseason by expanding the Chase field to 16 drivers/teams and adding a series of elimination rounds (Challenger, Contender, Eliminator and Championship). The Chase began on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland and concluded this past Sunday at Homestead.
Kevin Harvick, in his first season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, claimed his first Sprint Cup championship. Harvick qualified for the Chase with two wins during the regular season (Phoenix in March and Darlington in April). In fact, he became the first repeat winner of the season.
All four title contenders ran among the top-10 during most of the race at Homestead, and at one point, the four were running among the top-five, but pit strategy late in the event would determine the outcome.
NASCAR also won big at Phoenix and Homestead. Both tracks were sold out and television ratings increased. Give credit to not only the tight battle for the championship but the post-race brawl between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski as well as their teams at Texas.
Gordon ended up missing the final four by only one point.
There were plenty of other dramatic moments involving Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, during the Chase. He was involved in a post-race altercation with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Hamlin, and his antics on pit road there, intentionally hitting
Kenseth and Tony Stewart from behind, resulted in Keselowski being fined $50,000 and placed on probation for four races.
Even though the new Chase format created a lot more stress for drivers and teams than in years past, NASCAR has to be pleased with this format, as it increased the level of competition and generated more fan interest.
Under the old Chase format, Logano would have won the championship since he scored more points than any other title-eligible driver during the 10 races. He scored two wins (New Hampshire and Kansas) and seven top-10 finishes, but his 16th-place run at Homestead was
his worst during the playoffs.