NASCAR announces enhancements to race formats

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR revealed enhancements to the race format Monday that are intended to create more urgency and make the regular season more meaningful.

Under the new system, for the first time, points will be awarded during the 26-race regular season that carryover through the playoffs, all the way until the season finale in Miami.

The adjustments will be for all three series — Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series — and come after collaboration and input from industry stakeholders, including drivers and teams.

NASCAR also noted that the alterations to the race format will allow fans to see more racing, minimizing green-flag laps missed because of natural breaks.

“Simply put, this will make our great racing even better,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO, in a statement. “I’m proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal – strengthening the sport for our fans. This is an enhancement fully rooted in teamwork, and the result will be an even better product every single week.”

Said reigning Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin on what all this means to the drivers: “There are no off weeks. Every single race matters. Not only that, but every lap of every race matters.”

For fans who might be uneasy about what was announced, Brad Keselowski said: “Wait to see this on the race track. This is going to be the best racing you’ve ever seen.”

Every race will consist of three stages with points earned in each stage. The Daytona 500 will not be altered. Stage points will be awarded in the duel qualifying races, which are held three days before the Daytona 500.

Points will be awarded to the top-10 finishers in each of the first two stages of a race. The stage winner will receive 10 points. Points will descend to the 10th-place finisher, who will receive one point.

The race winner will receive 40 points. Second place will collect 35 points with third earning 34 points. That descends one point per position. The driver who finishes 35th receives two points. Any driver who finishes 36th or worse scores one point.

There will be no bonus points awarded for leading a lap.

If a driver wins both stages and the race, they’ll score a maximum 60 points for the event.

A race will be deemed official at the end of the second stage. If the race ends at that point, the leader would receive the stage points and race points.

“I think this is an exciting time for NASCAR and the fans should be excited about this,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

NASCAR also announced a playoff bonus structure that will see the regular-season points leader honored.

The regular-season points leader will be given a 15-point bonus that will be added to the driver’s reset total of 2,000 points. The driver who is second in the standings after the regular season ends receives a 10-point bonus. That descends to a one-point bonus for the driver 10th in the standings. Drivers 11th or lower who qualify for the playoffs do not receive a bonus.

The bonus points carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Also, the winner of the first two stages of each regular-season race would receive one bonus playoff point to be added to their reset total before the playoffs begin. The race winner will receive five bonus playoff points to be added to their reset total.

Those bonus points also can be earned in the playoff races. Thus, a driver who wins the playoff opener at Chicagoland would receive five points that would count to their total.

“Race fans deserve to see races that matter,” said NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton. “When races matter, the fans win.”

A race win will still help a driver and team qualify for the playoffs. NASCAR will no longer use the term Chase

The overall structure of the playoffs remains the same. There will be 16 drivers who make the playoffs in Cup (12 in Xfinity and eight in the Truck Series). NASCAR will reseed after each round.

In Cup, four drivers will be eliminated after each round, leaving four to compete for the title in the season finale in Miami.

The season finale in Miami will remain unchanged. Four drivers will compete for the title with the one finishing highest among the group the series champion.

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Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson are members of each other’s fan club

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Following Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Bristol Night Race, Kyle Busch stopped by the NASCAR on NBCSN victory lane stage to give an expanded explanation of how he wound up not only winning the race, but also sweeping all three races of the weekend.

During the interview, Busch discussed numerous things about the race, but one part stood out: his complimentary explanation of racing with his namesake, Kyle Larson.

“I tell you what, I like Larson a lot, but he is an animal,” Busch said with a smile. “He just drives the heck out of a race car.

“He don’t care if you’re there. He’ll pull down in front of you and take that chance that you’ll cut him a break. And sometimes you can’t, sometimes you don’t, and I think that’s just sprint car mentality.

“Like when you’re going down a straightaway side-by-side with a guy in a sprint car and you just turn it off to the bottom and try to pull a slide job on another guy, you just don’t care. He better check up, or you’re both going to be up on your wing, you know what I mean?”

While Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett spoke to Busch, Larson put out a post-race tweet explaining his awe and appreciation of Busch and his talents.

Busch responded in kind.

“I appreciate that,” Busch said. “A lot of people would say those exact same words about Kyle Larson himself. And I do as well. I’ve raced against him in Trucks and Xfinity and watched him work his way up through the ranks. It’s fun to race guys like that.”

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No race today, but you can still check out Episode 2 of “The Pits”

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Don’t miss Episode 2 of “The Pits” and be on the lookout for the next episodes only on NBCSports.com/The-Pits.

Episode 2, sponsored by Sonic and brought to you by NBC Sports, features the pit crew and what comical adventures they get into after stepping off pit road.

Check out the video above.

 

 

Matt Kenseth had motivation chasing Erik Jones: ‘That’s my replacement, and I better run him down’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – There were two delicious subplots crystallizing with 100 laps to go Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, but Matt Kenseth was focused on only one.

Yes, a win by Furniture Row Racing rookie Erik Jones would have locked up another playoff berth and tightened the screws on winless drivers on the points bubble such as Kenseth

But as he chased after Jones, who will take over Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing next season, the championship wasn’t on his mind.

“I didn’t really think about that,” Kenseth said after finishing fourth, adding with a laugh. “I was really more thinking about, ‘That’s my replacement, and I better run him down and pass him to show him I can still do it better than he can.’ I had those thoughts. But I wasn’t thinking anything about the playoffs, I was thinking about trying to win the race.

“It’s human nature. Whoever you’re catching for the lead, you’re always thinking something about them, right? Where you can sniff the victory, your mindset changes a little bit. It’s not just another car, it’s the leader, so you think things like that every once in a while. My brain’s a scary place.”

The motivational tactics didn’t quite work as Kenseth came up short. But so did Jones, who led a race-high 260 of 500 laps but was runner-up to Kyle Busch (who swept the week of NASCAR races at the 0.533-mile oval for the second time in his career).

Afterward, Jones and Kenseth (who doesn’t have a confirmed ride for 2018) sat side by side in the media center for a postrace interview session that could have been awkward but was surprisingly jovial.

Asked how he was able to use the bumper of his No. 77 Toyota respectfully in traffic, Jones received a playful nudge and whisper from a smiling Kenseth.

“I was asking Erik how you run into somebody respectfully,” he joked.

“I didn’t mean to hit Matt,” Jones replied.

“Did you hit me?”

“Just barely.”

“Didn’t remember,” Kenseth said with his typically Cheshire cat grin. “Shouldn’t have brought it up.  Now I’m mad. You guys laugh, wait till we leave here. Takes my ride and runs into me!”

After the laughter subsided, Jones said the subplots weren’t on his mind, either, as he fended off Kenseth.

“When you’re out there, it’s just another car to pass,” Jones said. “At least I’d assume that’s how most people look at it. That’s how I look at it.

“Yeah, sure you get to some guy, you’re like, ‘That guy wrecked me last week,’ something like that.  For the most part, as long as you don’t have a grudge with the guy, it’s just another competitor.”

Said Kenseth: “Honestly I would have liked to see Erik get the win. It would have been fine with me. I wasn’t really thinking about the playoffs. It would just have been another one of our cars with a win, put another JGR Furniture Row Toyota in the playoff grid.”

With two races remaining in the regular season, Kenseth’s chances still seem decent without a victory. Along with Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray, Kenseth is among the three winless drivers who have a provisional playoff berth.

The trio is well ahead of the cutoff (Clint Bowyer is 58 points behind McMurray, who is three behind Kenseth and 11 behind Elliott), so provided there isn’t another first-time winner, it would take a collapse for them to be eliminated.

After what Kenseth called “the best day we’ve ever had” by the No. 20 pit crew, there is playoff optimism despite a winless streak that is at 13 months. Saturday marked his fourth top five in six races.

“I feel good about the next 12 (races),” Kenseth said. “When we’re at our best, we can run good at all those places.”

Erik Jones fails to live up to Bristol intro song, but earns best finish of Cup career

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Erik Jones made a pivotal mistake leading up to Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He was one of six who forgot to choose their intro song prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

“I don’t even know who picked my song,” Jones said.

The Furniture Row Racing driver can thank someone named “DJ Du” for stepping up.

As a result, Jones was “a little surprised” when he appeared at the top of a ramp in Turn 3 to be introduced as the pole-sitter for the night’s race. The sounds of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” echoed throughout “Thunder Valley.”

“DJ Du” turned out not to be a prophet. But Jones did everything he could during the ensuing 500 laps to back up the song selection.

Making his 27th Cup start and his second at the .533-mile track, Jones led a career-high 260 laps. He matched wits with Kyle Busch, now a six-time Bristol winner, and Matt Kenseth, a four-time Bristol winner and the driver he’ll succeed in the No. 20.

The battle resulted in Jones finishing second, the best result of his Cup career.

Jones led nine times, swapping the lead with Busch, his former Camping World Truck Series owner, 10 times – three times in the last 139 laps.

Despite the lack of his first Cup trophy, Jones is confident it was the most fun he’s had to date in the Cup Series.

Though he’s only 21, the race reminded him of his good ol’ days driving modifieds.

“It takes you back to, you know, late model racing really more than anything,” Jones said. “You’re just on the gas. You’re not saving tires. You’re just hammer down and getting everything you can, which is a lot of fun. It’s hard on you as a driver, it wears you out, but you definitely have a lot of fun.”

Bristol, a track he’s won at twice in the Xfinity Series, reminds him of Winchester Speedway in Indiana, a .5-mile oval where he’s won three Winchester 400.

And he almost won like at Winchester.

Even Busch, who won all three Bristol races this week, thought it was Jones’ race to lose before he took the lead for good with 56 laps to go.

“He’s a phenomenal talent and a great race car driver,” said Busch, who first discovered Jones when he finished third to Jones in the 2012 Snowball Derby. “We knew that a long time ago. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing I found him or a bad thing I found him because one of these days I’m going to lose to him and I’m not going to be thrilled, but I’m still going to congratulate him.

“I thought today was actually going to be that day.”

Jones, who first experienced Cup action in 2015 when he relieved Denny Hamlin mid-race at Bristol, said leading a race for so long is a “burden,” especially for someone still figuring out how things work in the Cup Series.

“You’re letting all those guys be behind you get better and better and improve on their cars to gain up on you,” Jones said. “It’s hard to get your car better when you’re out front. You don’t really know what you need.”

If there was a burden, Jones said there was no pressure to win, even with a potential playoff spot waiting for him if he did visit victory lane.

With two races left in the regular season, he is 16th in the points standings but outside the 16-driver playoff grid.

“This was our best shot to win,” Jones said. “I was just actually really calm this week. I really had a sense we were going to run really well. … I feel really confident every time I come to Bristol. And, you know, kind of felt like we were going to be running up front, but just didn’t have enough.”

Saturday’s 500 laps left Jones the “most wore out” he’s been this season following a race, but he knows they’ll be instrumental when he finally gets to celebrate as Busch did Saturday night.

Said Jones: “You got to lose one to win one, right?”

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