The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway

The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway

The regular season for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is over. 26 races with 11 individual winners, eight who won multiple times, the Chase Contenders have been decided. The first of the three elimination rounds in the NASCAR playoff format begins at Chicagoland Speedway.

There are 16 contenders for the Championship. Their standings in the points have been reset based on the number of races they have won during the regular season. Those drivers with no wins start with 2000 points. Those drivers with wins get an additional 3 points for each win.

1 Jimmie Johnson 2012
2 Kyle Busch 2012
3 Matt Kenseth 2012
4 Joey Logano 2009
5 Kevin Harvick 2006
6 Dale Earnhardt Jr 2006
7 Kurt Busch 2006
8 Carl Edwards 2006
9 Brad Keselowski 2003
10 Martin Truex Jr 2003
11 Denny Hamlin 2003
12 Jamie McMurray 2000
13 Jeff Gordon 2000
14 Ryan Newman 2000
15 Paul Menard 2000
16 Clint Bowyer 2000

The Challenger Round begins at Chicagoland Speedway then moves on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway the next week and then Dover International Speedway the week after. The four Chase contenders who are lowest in points after Dover will be eliminated from the Chase.

The “Rub” as they say is that any of these drivers who win a race regardless of their point standings gets a pass on this round. If that driver happens to be one of those lower in points then it is possible to be 12th in points and still miss the next round. It is highly unlikely but can happen that the three races could be won by a driver at the bottom of the standings so 10th place may not be safe either.

Looking at the reset points Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer really are starting in a hole even though it is only three points. Three points equals three positions on the race track. There are no bonus points for leading laps, only for winning races. It makes these races much easier to follow.

The new Chase Format puts an emphasis on winning but in reality due to the elimination feature teams must be on top of their game each and every week. Brad Keselowski put this feeling into perspective.

We are ready to go. We have some momentum with the top-10’s lately but we need to turn some of those into wins and we know that. We have 10 weeks though to make that happen. We want to be in the Chase and we want to not take that for granted but on the other side we aren’t just happy with just being in it. We want to do more than just that. That is what we are here to do, to make some noise and hopefully bring home a second championship.

Keselowski knows how it works as much as anyone. He opened the Chase at Chicagoland last year with a three wide pass to win and guarantee himself into the Contender Round. He followed that up with a win in the last race of that round at Talladega to move himself into the Eliminator Round. He wasn’t able to back that effort up in that round and was seven points shy and eliminated from the Championship.

Click on this link to read more on Strategies to Win the Championship.

None of these drivers are going to win the Championship at Chicagoland Speedway but they can dig themselves into a hole. A big hole, one of which the only way to crawl out of is by winning one of the next two races.

Let the Challenger Round begin. It is going to be a great one.

If you cannot get to Chicagoland Speedway for the myAFibRisk.com 400 it will be broadcast on NBCSN on Sunday September 20th starting at 3 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 312197 Matt Sullivan/Getty Images