CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Jimmie Johnson hits the track at Daytona International Speedway next month to begin the defense of his NASCAR Cup Series championship, he’ll have a brand new competition format ahead of him.
“The championship piece, we still get to Homestead and it’s very similar for that event itself,” Johnson said. “How you get there is a bit different.”
Monday evening, NASCAR announced an enhanced competition format, with a new, stage-based race format, playoff points system and regular-season champion incentives highlighting the updates.
The changes came as a result of industry-wide collaboration, which is one reason Johnson is so excited about the new format.
“I feel that there has been a lot of time and effort and serious thought put into this and it touches a lot of areas that needed to be addressed in our sport right now and the way things are evolving,” he said. “Another couple of takeaways for me are that it’s all about winning and finishing the best that you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Duels or whatever it is, there’s incentive to go out there and perform.”
While he noted that drivers don’t need any extra incentive to put 100 percent into their performance, Johnson predicted the new playoff points system could make them “a little bit more desperate in given situations and create more storylines.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott agreed that the drivers are already putting their all into the races, but the chance to win segments and earn playoff points prior to the final checkered flag will make the race that much more entertaining for the fans – and create more opportunities for the drivers.
“I think it’s going to add another level of strategy in certain things – whether you want to win a segment or position yourself for the next round,” he said. “As we go through a race, you were going to see cautions as the day went on. If you’re leading the race, why not be rewarded for it?”
Both drivers noted that they can’t wait to see the new format in action as the 2017 season inches closer.
“We all know how important points are. And with the new format, there are two opportunities to earn points before the traditional moment in time,” Johnson said. “So, it’s going to force people to be more aggressive and more competitive in some situations, not all.
“I don’t see any downside in that.”