It has been well-documented already that NASCAR has made several tweaks to its points system.
Among these changes is the tweak in the Chase criteria, which allows the top 10 drivers in the standings after 26 races, as well as two “wild card” drivers, to advance into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
The “wild card” positions, it was announced, would allow the two drivers outside the top 10 in the standings with the most victories in the first 26 races to advance into the Chase. What was not mentioned at the time of the announcement was the hidden conditions under which a driver is eligible.
Maybe that’s because those conditions were just brought up for the first time this week, in light of Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win.
The conditions state that, in order to be eligible for one of the “wild card” slots, you must be one of two drivers outside the top 10 in points with the most wins, between the positions 11th-20th in the standings after 26 races.
Before Bayne’s win, the conditions mentioned nothing about being in the top 20 in the standings after 26 races.
The reason for the hidden rule is to draw a line as to who can compete in the Chase. Trevor Bayne declared to run for the NASCAR Nationwide Series title in 2011, not the Sprint Cup title.
Though he can change his mind and declare a run for the Cup title while forfeiting his chance for a Nationwide title(Bayne would still not get points for his win), NASCAR wants to prevent a circumstance where a driver not running for the Sprint Cup title can slip into the Chase based on a “wild card”.
The rule is made with good intentions; to prevent controversy. But it’s worth noting that there is now a clause that can prevent drivers with more wins from making the Chase should they finish outside the top 20 in the standings after 26 races.
To avoid ridicule, however, it may have been in NASCAR’s best interest to formally announce the new clause instead of just slipping it in there almost unnoticed.
Update: It has been brought to my attention that this clause was indeed part of the initial announcement but has gone primarily unmentioned by the media, so just be sure to keep it in mind as the season progresses. Sorry for the inconvenience.