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Drivers ‘floating’ ideas on how to better reward champion of regular season

Drivers have been discussing improving the Chase format by putting more weight on the regular season. While it's hard to disagree with a bonus to the regular season points leader, what's the best way to change it?

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Could the regular-season champion earn a bye to the second round of the Chase?

Former series champ Brad Keselowski says drivers have discussed ways to reward the points leader more after the 26-race regular season. A bye is one such idea.

The biggest benefit to the points leader after the season’s 26th race is a spot in the Chase — if they don’t have a win and are already locked in. Since the Chase debuted in 2004, the points leader after 26 races has always had at least one victory.

Keselowski, who has two victories this season, admits an early win can give a driver a new perspective on the regular season.

“I think clearly the sport is lacking some motivation once you’ve won a race,’’ Keselowski told reporters Monday at Team Penske’s shop. “I don’t think there’s any question that most of the competitors in the sport feel like that is not advantageous for a product we’re trying to put on and have floated some ideas to level that back out that maybe some people will like and maybe some won’t. We’ll have to see.

“At the end of the day, it’s never a good thing to remove motivation from the field.’’

It also seems to have impacted fans. In a conference call with industry analysts last month, an International Speedway Corp., executive said the focus on the Chase may be playing a role in fans purchasing tickets for those events instead of races earlier in the season.

Keselowski said that “most every driver, I think, would agree with some kind of regular-season bonus of real value. Right now you get three points for a win, which is something, don’t get me wrong, but it only counts for the first round.’’

Those bonus points proved pivotal for series champion Kyle Busch last year. He won four races in the regular season, giving him 12 bonus points entering the first round of the Chase. He wouldn’t have advanced to the second round, though, if he had two fewer points.

What would be a good reward for the regular-season champion?

“I think a bye is a good word for it,’’ Keselowski said. “As we’re trying to emulate other sports and major playoffs, I think it makes sense as it does for them.’’

NASCAR Chairman Brian France was asked about this Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and said: “You know what’s on NASCAR’s radar? Anything that will make the racing tighter, more compelling, closer finishes and more opportunities for different drivers. So whatever it is that doesn’t break the bank for our team owners in particular, then we’re going to be open to it. We’ve been clear about that.

“The other side of that is they have a lot of incentive. Once you get a win in the regular season to hang it out, let loose for wins and everything else. Suddenly, if you had to have a points race within a points race, we’d have to think about what that does to that mentality that has been created that we like.”

If there is a first-round bye for the regular-season champ, Keselowski was asked what would be the motivation for the driver who has that bye

“I guess that comes down to the question would you rather see a dozen guys or so demotivated for 30-some races or 20-some races, or would you rather see one driver demotivated for three races?’’ Keselowski said. “It kind of seems like a trade-off to me that maybe values the regular season more, which is of course a higher quantity of races, and devalues the first round of the playoffs. It’s just a tradeoff. The value proposition I think is worth it.’’

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