CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 30 (UPI) -- NASCAR is expanding its season-ending Chase for the Spring Cup to 16 drivers and adding elimination rounds beginning this year, the organization said Thursday.
"This new format rewards winning," NASCAR Chief Executive Officer Brian France said during his annual state of the sport speech.
"It elevates the importance of every race across the entire schedule," he said. "It ultimately rewards those drivers and teams who perform at the highest level when the championship is on the line. The new Chase will be thrilling and easy to understand. It will help drive our sport's competition to a whole new level."
Under the new arrangement, a win in any of the 26 races in the NASCAR regular season would virtually assure a berth in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. The regular season concludes Sept. 6 at Richmond, Va. At that point the top 16 drivers and their teams will advance to the "NASCAR Chase Grid."
The number of drivers in contention for the Sprint Cup Series championship will decrease after each three races until four drivers remain eligible when the Sprint season ends Nov. 16 at Homestead, Fla. Official finishing position at Homestead will determine which of the four eligible drivers will win the Sprint Cup championship.
NASCAR has conducted the Chase for the Cup since 2004. Jimmie Johnson has won the championship six times, including in 2013.
The 2014 Sprint Cup season begins Feb. 23 with the Daytona 500.