CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR has a new race structure and playoff points system, one that, in the words of chairman and CEO Brian France, is designed to "make racing more compelling on an hour-by-hour basis, week in and week out."
There are two fundamental enhancements announced on Monday at the Charlotte Convention Center and covering all three of NASCAR's national series that should promote that goal.
First, races will be divided into three stages each, with the number of laps in each stage determined in advance according to the race length and the venue. The top 10 drivers in each of the first two segments will score championship points -- 10 to the winner, nine to second place, eight for third, and so forth.
The race winner (the driver who takes the checkered flag at the end of the final stage) gets 40 championship points, second place earns 35, with each succeeding position worth one point less.
In addition, and this is the second major innovation for 2017, the winners of the first two stages earn one playoff point each, and those points are carried forward throughout the first three rounds of the 10-race playoff at the end of the season.
The race winner receives five playoff points, which also carry forward until the season-ending Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where points are reset to zero and the highest-finishing driver among the four who are eligible for the title claims the championship.
The changes involved extensive discussion and collaboration between industry stakeholders, including the sanctioning body, team owners, the drivers and broadcast partners.
"There are no off weeks," driver Denny Hamlin said. "Every single race matters. ... Not only that, but every lap of every race matters. From our standpoint, you always felt a little bit relaxed once you got a race win, and you would sometimes maybe go into test mode or something.
"Now with each accomplishment that you have during each given race, whether you're collecting points for the overall regular season or you're trying to collect points through a stage win or a race win, each accomplishment gives your road to Homestead a little bit easier, gives you a little bit of cushion there to be able to get through the playoffs and make it to Homestead.
"And that's what it's all about for us is making it to Homestead and trying to race for a championship, and I think this format does it for it."
No longer will NASCAR racing have a "Chase." Henceforth, "playoff" will be the operative term for all three series.
"We introduced a new word, i.e., the Chase, and we liked it at first," said NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell. "But when you really talk about it, when (a team owner) is out talking to a sponsor, well, what's the Chase? Well, it's our playoffs."
There are many aspects of the formats that won't change. Race winners will still qualify for the playoffs, as they have since NASCAR introduced the elimination format in 2014.
But under the new system, drivers will still have a strong incentive to accumulate playoff points that will carry forward through the first nine races of the playoff, because those points could be critical to advancement.
"I look at races as soon as the plate tracks, especially Talladega, and you might have seen cars that have lagged back in the past," driver Brad Keselowski said. "You're not going to do that anymore. The single file, high line ride out, those days are gone. And I think that's great.
"We're going to go out there and we're going to race to a new level that we haven't seen before, and I'm really pumped about being a part of that in the future of this sport."
The number of drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff will remain at 16. Playoff fields in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will remain status quo at 12 and eight drivers, respectively.
Winning a race is still a ticket to the next round of the playoff -- guaranteed.
But under the new system, the regular-season winner also provides an opportunity to earn playoff points without winning stages or races. The championship leader after 26 races receives 15 playoff points. Second place gets 10 points, third place eight, with each successive position worth one point less through the top 10 positions.
Like the points for stage and race wins, those earned for top-10 regular-season finishes carry forward through the Round of 8, which concludes at Phoenix.
Though there will be more to process and digest, Earnhardt believes the race fans who drove the changes to the race structure and playoff points will embrace the changes.
"I think the change is actually very subtle," Earnhardt said. "Basically, you're going to throw two cautions. You're going to know when they are, which is actually kind of comforting. Who wins the race, and how the races are decided doesn't change.
"The playoff doesn't really change at all. You're going to have two breaks in every race that essentially are going to be rewarding to your driver. That, to me, creates interest."
NOTES: Overtime will still be in play at the end of races but not at the end of stages. NASCAR has eliminated bonus points for leading laps and leading the most laps.
All-Star Carmelo Anthony took out some of that frustration Monday night, leading the Knicks to a 109-103 victory over the struggling Pacers in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Anthony hit a baseline jumper with 23.4 seconds remaining and Courtney Lee sank four consecutive free throws during the final 15.1 seconds in New York's first victory in Indianapolis since March 17, 2012.
Anthony led the Knicks (20-26) with 26 points and Derrick Rose had 20 points and six assists. Lee, an Indianapolis native, and Willy Hernangomez each scored 14 and Justin Holiday had 13.
"That's a very big win, an important win," said Anthony, who along with Lee and Rose were a collective 20 of 21 from the free throw line. "We had a nice lead. They came all the way back and tied it, and then we regrouped and had the composure to make the plays we needed to make to win it at the end.
"Our composure and our execution down the stretch were really good. It feels good. We should be proud of ourselves."
Paul George led Indiana (22-22) with 31 points and seven rebounds, Myles Turner had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Al Jefferson added 13 points off the bench.
George made two free throws with 42 seconds left to tie it at 103, but New York scored the game's final six points to snap a two-game losing streak.
Indiana has lost three in a row and fell to .500 despite having played one of the NBA's easiest schedules to date.
It's the fourth time this season Indiana has lost after leading by 10 points or more. The Knicks outscored the Pacers 64-41 during the middle quarters.
"We've been losing close games, and if we lose another one like that, it is tough and probably like Kryptonite," New York coach Jeff Hornacek said. "It was big to win that one. It stops the bleeding a little bit for us to get back on the winning way.
"But we can't be tentative in the last six minutes of a game. We still need to attack. If you don't have a good shot, then come back and make a play. We slowed it down a little bit too much."
An Anthony basket in the closing seconds gave New York an 86-75 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Anthony had 21 through 36 minutes and Rose had 18.
"All of these games have been like a learning experience, even the close ones we have lost," Rose said. "It seems like we have lost 10, 15 or 20 games like that. They just make you a better team."
Three free throws from Lee capped a 10-0 Knicks run and gave New York a 75-60 lead with 8:09 remaining in the third quarter. Layups by Rose and Joakim Noah and a Kristaps Porzingas 3-pointer contributed to the 10-0 burst.
"Each group that enters the game has to be ready," said George, who was only 3 of 10 from 3-point range. "That's just what it comes down to. We can't have any drops during the game."
With Holiday and Hernangomez each scoring 10 points, New York made 13 of 20 shots from the field in the second quarter and outscored the Pacers 40-24 to lead 62-58 through 24 minutes.
"That second quarter was a huge quarter," Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. "We were fouling and allowing them to march to the free throw line. When you play like that, you've got to make plays down the stretch."
Indiana got 13 first-quarter points from George to lead 34-22 through one quarter. Anthony had 12 points in the opening quarter and 17 for the half. George finished the half with 19 points.
New York shot 52.6 percent from the field in the first half (20 of 38) and Indiana shot 44.9 percent (22 of 49). The Knicks outrebounded the Pacers 24-17 during the first 24 minutes.
NOTES: The Knicks were without F Lance Thomas (fractured left orbit). ... The Pacers were without G Rodney Stuckey (sore left hamstring). ... Indiana made a starting lineup change, inserting G C.J. Miles in place of Glenn Robinson III. ... The Knicks and the Pacers each came in having lost two in a row. ... Indiana F Paul George leads the NBA in free throw percentage (92.9). ... New York ranks third in rebounding (45.9) and four in blocks per game (5.7). ... The Pacers are second in free throw percentage (81.5) and third in steals (8.7). ... Beginning with the 2012-2013 season, Indiana has won 12 of the 15 most recent meetings with the Knicks. ... New York had not won at Indiana since March 17, 2012. ... Indiana C Al Jefferson came in having made 24 of 38 shots from the field during the past four games and is averaging 14.3 points in those games.