By: Ethyn Reasoner
The Chase for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
NASCAR’s playoff system that was introduced in 2004 has evolved into a points reset for every driver who has won a Sprint Cup race in 2015 plus the next highest drivers in points until 16 spots are filled.
NASCAR gives each driver three points for every win that they collect before the Chase begins in order to provide an advantage over the teams and drivers who have not been as successful during the first portion of the season.
Beginning in 2014, NASCAR introduced the Chase Grid, an elimination system that was intended to imitate that of many of America’s most popular team sports, which include football, baseball, and basketball.
The main focus for the 16 teams participating in the Chase is how to avoid being eliminated after the third race at Dover in early October.
In order to advance to the Contender Round of the championship, a driver must either finish in the top 12 in points or win at least one race.
The points will be reset to an equal playing field after the first round, which means that all 12 drivers in the Contender Round, all eight drivers in the Elimination Round, and all four drivers in the Championship Round will have the same number of points before the first event of each respective round.
In NASCAR, points are mainly scored based on finishing positions. Last place, which is 43rd, earns one point, and each driver who finishes in front of the other earns an additional point. The race winner receives 43 points for their position, three bonus points to distinguish a victory over second place, at least one bonus point for leading a lap, and the potential to earn another bonus point for leading the most laps.
In 2015, different teams have dominated certain sections of the season so far.
Hendrick Motorsports started off strong, especially with Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, who is a six-time champion, earned four wins between March and June, but he has struggled with consistency for the middle third of the season.
Stewart-Haas Racing was dominant in the first several weeks of the season. 2014 champion Kevin Harvick and 2004 champion Kurt Busch have maintained their consistency for much of the year.
The only four-car team in NASCAR with all of their drivers in the Chase is Joe Gibbs Racing. After struggling early in the season, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Columbia, Missouri native Carl Edwards have won races and improved their consistency as the season has progressed.
Gibbs’ fourth Chase driver, Kyle Busch, overcame severe injuries to his legs and feet in a racing accident at Daytona International Speedway in February that took him out of the car for the first three months of the season.
Underdog teams such as Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex, Jr. and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray also earned Chase berths this season.
Truex won at Pocono in June to clinch a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. McMurray earned the first Chase berth of his 13-year Sprint Cup Series career by consistently finishing well in the vast majority of the races this season.
Two other Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Jeff Gordon, who is a four-time champion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, earned Chase berths as well.
Earnhardt won two races at Talladega in May and Daytona in July to earn his way into the Chase, and he has also shown strong consistency.
Jeff Gordon, who earned a Chase berth in his final full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has struggled at times this season, but he was consistent enough to points race his way into the playoff picture.
Team Penske’s drivers, Brad Keselowski, the 2012 champion, and Joey Logano, who participated in the Championship Round of the Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year, both won races to clinch Chase spots.
Two of Logano’s three wins this season came in August, and many people expect him to contend with the Stewart-Haas and Gibbs teams in the Chase. Logano also won the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.
Two Richard Childress drivers quietly snuck into the championship hunt this year.
2014 Championship Round Runner-Up Ryan Newman and first-time chaser Paul Menard are both winless on the season, but they have shown enough consistency to make the cut.
The final driver to earn a berth in the 2015 Chase on points is Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer. The Waltrip team will be shutting down after 2015 due to lack of sponsorship and other investments.
Bowyer has not won a Sprint Cup Series race in nearly three years, but he still wants to end his tenure with MWR on a high note.
Chicagoland Speedway has hosted the first race of the Chase for several seasons. The 1.5-mile tri-oval held its inaugural NASCAR weekend in July 2001, and it has been on the Sprint Cup Series schedule every year since.
Race coverage of the myAFibRisk.com 400 will begin on NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. The race can also be streamed through the NBC Sports Live Extra website.