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NASCAR Chase changes good for the sport

This week, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France announced some changes to the Chase for the Nextel Cup and fans should reap the benefits of the new system.

Under the old system, the Top 10 drivers after 26 races were put into the Chase, NASCAR's version of a playoff.

Drivers outside the Top 10 were also eligible for the Chase as long as they were within 400 points of the leader, but that never happened since the inception of the Chase format.

Also under the old system, drivers were award 180 points for winning a race, just five more than the second-place finisher.

That was then, this is now.

This year, 12 drivers will qualify for the Chase and the 400-point cutoff has been eliminated.

The biggest change, perhaps, comes to the point system itself in that drivers will now be awarded 185 points for winning a race, five more points than in previous years.

Also, once the Chase begins, drivers will be seeded by the number of victories they have and those without any wins will be seeded by points.

This is a stark contrast to years past.

Had the system been in place just last year, Kasey Kahne would have been the leader at the beginning of the Chase and Tony Stewart would have been included as well.

Stewart, who also won three races in the Chase, would have been in close contention for the championship with the new rules in place.

Speculation on the new format has been rampant since France announced there would be some changes for the 2007 season and most drivers now seem happy with the new changes.

The fans should be happy as well.

Adding two more drivers to the Chase allows more competition in the final 10 races and narrows down the possibility of an Earnhardt, Gordon or Stewart missing out on the post-season melee.

The change fans should be most excited about is the addition of points for winning a race.

Although I have never been a fan of the Chase for the Nextel Cup format, it does make for exciting racing during a point in the season that could otherwise be boring.

So just think how exciting it is going to be this season with two more drivers in the mix and all of them fighting for those extra points for winning.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor.

You can contact him by e-mailing austin.phillips@greenvilleadvocate.com or by calling 382-3111 ext. 122.