The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is North America's premiere stock car auto racing series. It is sanctioned by NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, which also runs the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Regional Racing Series'. The races are primarily run on oval tracks, but each year a couple of races are also run on road courses.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series currently has four active constructors racing for a championship - Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota.
The models for the 2011 season are the Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger R/T, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Camry. Like in past years, the cars have once again undergone some changes to improve their raceability. Though some of the new "Car of Tomorrow" (CoT) specifications have remained intact, series officials have opted to reverse several of the COT changes, including doing away with the COT's rear spoiler.
A driver's starting position depends on their qualifying run. Only 43 cars are permitted entry into each race, so if more cars attempt to qualify, some must be sent home to try again at a later date.
Even though the starting positions are based on qualifying times, the top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed to make the race. This means that those top 35 will be in no danger of going home, regardless of their qualifying efforts. This is to prevent the top teams from missing a race due to problems faced during their qualifying run.
Another seven positions are given to the fastest qualifiers outside of the top 35, with a final entry going to a former champion that was not able to make the race based on time or points. In the event there are no former champions in need of the provisional, the final spot is given to the driver outside of the top 35 in points, with the eighth fastest qualifying time of the day.
Each of the non-guaranteed drivers that make the race, will start from the position that their qualifying time has awarded them. For example, if one of the seven fastest qualifiers were to have the fastest lap of the day, he would start on the pole, ahead of the slower teams, even if those teams were in the top 35 in points.
In the event that qualifying is canceled due to rain or some other unforeseen event, the top 42 positions are set by car owner points, with the final spot still open to a past champion using a Champions Provisional. The previous year's owner points are used during the first six races of the season, both to determine who is in the top 35, as well as starting order during a canceled qualifying session should one occur during the first six races.
The only points race of the season that does not follow this standard qualifying method is the Daytona 500. In this race, the starting order is set both by the standard time trails, as well as two qualifying races. The top 35 teams in the previous year's owner points are guaranteed entry into the race.
Why 43 Starting Positions in NASCAR?
The number of starting positions is something that has evolved in NASCAR. Originally, the number of starting spots changed based on the size of the track the series was currently visiting. For the larger tracks, the numbers could reach as high as 75 positions, while the smaller tracks limited this number to just 32.
By 1998 however, NASCAR mandated the size of the field to be 43 entry positions. Since then, there hasn't been a race with fewer than 43 cars. Just before setting the number to 43, the rule was set to 42 starting positions, plus one additional spot should a former champion not be able to qualify. In 1998, they changed that number to 43, with that final spot going to a past champion, or the next fastest qualifier, if no past champions required the provisional.
Chase for the Championship
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup started back in 2004, in an attempt to bring back some excitement to the races at the end of the season. Seeing as so many championships had been decided races before the season came to an end, NASCAR came up with a new system, not unlike the playoffs seen in other sports. They hoped that this would improve television ratings and ticket sales for those final races. The format has seen some tweaking over the years, but the core concepts still remain the same.
As of 2011, like in the years prior, "The Chase" will occur during the final ten races of the season. Here we will see the top 10 drivers in points, along with two other wild card drivers, gain entry into The Chase. Wild card slot winners are determined by the two drivers ranked 11th through 20th with the most wins after 26 races. In the event that no racers ranked 11th through 20th have a victory, or several drivers have an equal number of victories, championship points will then be used as a tie-breaker.
Points are then reset to 2000 for each Chase driver, with three bonus points awarded to each of the top 10 drivers for every victory leading up to The Chase. No bonus points are to be awarded to the wild card drivers. After the points have been reset and the bonus points have been awarded, the championship points will be calculated in the normal fashion for the remaining 10 races.
Because the points separating the drivers in The Chase at virtually erased after the 'reset', it gives each chase driver an honest chance to win the Sprint Cup, which is often seen by the way multiple drivers still have a shot to win the championship right up to the final race.
As a way to encourage the drivers that didn't make it into The Chase, NASCAR offers a bonus of one million dollars to the driver that finishes in 13th position (or the top driver not in the Chase for the Cup). This driver is also invited to the banquet at the end of the year to accept his prize.
Though there has been much scepticism over whether or not this system is indeed good or bad for the sport, it is easily seen that it has added a new element of drama to the series itself. Because drivers know just how important it is to make The Chase, it has put extra pressure on them to strive for the top 10 in points - and stay there.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Points System
As of 2011, NASCAR has changed the points system for their national series'. The number of points received at the end of the race has been reduced, as follows a more standard system where the winner receives 43 points, the second place driver receives 42 points, the third place driver receives 41, with each remaining position losing a point until reaching the final finishing position, 43rd, whose driver will receive just one point.
Bonus points are still awarded for a variety of accomplishments, including each of the following - one bonus point for leading a lap, one bonus point for leading the most laps, and three bonus points for winning the race. The maximum number of points that can be obtained from a single race is 48, which requires a driver to both win the race and lead the most laps.
(By Finishing Position)
1 (43 points) 23 (21 points)
2 (42 points) 24 (20 points)
3 (41 points) 25 (19 points)
4 (40 points) 26 (18 points)
5 (39 points) 27 (17 points)
6 (38 points) 28 (16 points)
7 (37 points) 29 (15 points)
8 (36 points) 30 (14 points)
9 (35 points) 31 (13 points)
10 (34 points) 32 (12 points)
11 (33 points) 33 (11 points)
12 (32 points) 34 (10 points)
13 (31 points) 35 (9 points)
14 (30 points) 36 (8 points)
15 (29 points) 37 (7 points)
16 (28 points) 38 (6 points)
17 (27 points) 39 (5 points)
18 (26 points) 40 (4 points)
19 (25 points) 41 (3 points)
20 (24 points) 42 (2 points)
21 (23 points) 43 (1 points)
22 (22 points)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Trophy
The current trophy for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series features a pair of checkered flags and was designed by Bruce Newman of Tiffany & Co. This latest version of the trophy, which is made of sterling silver and sits on a wooden base, has been awarded to each championship winner since 2004. The first driver to receive said trophy was Kurt Busch.
The new Tiffany & Co. trophy was designed in correlation with Nextel becoming the primary sponsor for NASCAR's top series. As such, the "NASCAR Nextel Cup Series" logo was present on the Cup during the years 2004 to 2007. Since 2008, the series has been renamed and the trophy has featured the "NASCAR Sprint Cup Series" logo.
Other than the series champion, it is also tradition for NASCAR to award two additional trophies - one for the team and the other for the primary sponsor. Each winner of the trophy is granted permanent possession of the cup, and as such, most teams reserve a place in their race shop to display the trophy.
There are also three Sprint Cup Series trophies that are updated on a yearly basis. These three feature the names of all former champions and are located in different parts of America. One is kept in Daytona and is part of the Daytona 500 Experience, a second is kept in New York City and is displayed during "Championship Week" when the annual awards ceremony and banquet are held, and the third follows the Sprint Cup Series to each track and can been seen in the Sprint Experience.
Former Names of the Series
Sprint Cup Series: 2008 - ?
Nextel Cup Series: 2004 - 2007
Winston Cup Series: 1972 - 2003
Grand National Series: 1950 - 1971
Strictly Stock Series: 1949