Carl Edwards not a fan of proposal
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most Sprint Cup Series drivers have been hesitant to offer comment or criticism about NASCAR's rumored plan to shake up the format of its Chase for the Cup championship.
Not Carl Edwards.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver, who famously lost the closest battle for the Sprint Cup in NASCAR history to Tony Stewart in 2011, is clearly not a fan of the proposed changes.
NASCAR will announce its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format Thursday. It is expected to be to a 16-driver field whittled down through eliminations to four drivers and a winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
It would be the fourth significant change to either the points or championship formats since the Chase debuted in 2004.
"My simple preference would just be to determine the champion over the course of the whole season," Edwards told reporters at the Sprint NASCAR Media Tour. "The way I understand it, all they want to do is crown a champion that wins races, that drives his guts out and it puts on a really exciting show for everyone. I'm all for that.
"I'd just hate to see some guy have a flat tire or a blown engine or something in a three-race stretch and be knocked out, then come back and dominate at Homestead. I think that would be tough."
Edwards won the final race of NASCAR's 26-event "regular season" in 2013 and led the points standings heading into the Chase. But he and his No. 99 team struggled to run in the top 10 in the first two Chase races, and his championship hopes were essentially ruined when he finished 35th at Dover.
Under the proposal, the Chase would increase to 16 drivers, with any driver who wins a race during the regular season gaining an automatic entry. The Chase field would be cut by four drivers after the third, sixth and ninth events, leaving four drivers contending for the title at Homestead.
NASCAR is essentially borrowing a page from other major sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball where teams -- or in this case, drivers -- are eliminated from playoff contention while the season climaxes with one championship event at the end of the year.
Let's change it all. I'm all for it. A lot of times we change things for the fans, and I think the drivers are going to enjoy some of this stuff as much as the fans are.” -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"It's tough, because to me, we have to decide, 'What are we going to do?'" Edwards said. "Are we going to be the sport that we were for 50 years, or are we going to really change this thing and make it different? I think they are prepared to change it and make it different.
"The result of that could be really spectacular," he added. "We just have to make sure that we do it the right way. I guess what NASCAR is doing right now is they have floated this thing out there to get it working in everyone's minds and give them suggestions. I'm sure whatever they come up with will be pretty well thought out. I'm just curious to see exactly what it is."
Edwards did publicly offer a couple of suggestions to NASCAR -- one serious and another rather less so.
"If we're going to do this, and we're going to eliminate people, you might as well just line the final four guys up and have a 10-lap race," he said, half-joking. "They might as well just go for it.
"The only thing I would really add to this proposed format is if you win any race in the Chase, no matter what happens after that, you would advance to have a shot at it at Homestead."
Should he make the cut to the final four at Homestead, Edwards is confident that he can win his first Sprint Cup championship, and the first for Roush Fenway Racing since Kurt Busch's triumph in 2004.
In 10 career Sprint Cup starts at Homestead, Edwards has two wins, including the 2011 championship finale, when he ended up tied with Stewart on points only to lose on a tiebreaker. He has five other top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile track.
I don't think we can take everything the NFL or NBA is doing and say, 'We need to do it like this' because they're doing it like that and it's working. This is still stock-car racing. This is NASCAR. A certain percent of change is good, but we do not need to copy the playoff system.” -- Ryan Newman
"I don't think anybody has a better record at Homestead than us -- I guess I should be really fighting for that!" Edwards said, laughing. "If every season was determined by Homestead, we'd have some championships by now. As a team, we know there's an advantage there for us."
Edwards said drivers are already doing everything they can to win, and the proposed changes that NASCAR chairman Brian France laid out two weeks ago won't change that.
"I don't think you can take the top 15 guys in this sport and make them race any harder for wins. I don't think you can," Edwards said.
Edwards said taking away the downforce on cars and making the tires softer is a good place to start. He said it would go a long way toward increasing competitive racing at the front of the pack.
"No matter what format we race under, I can't just try harder and go up and race with the guy or pass him," Edwards said. "I think the thing we have to focus on as a sport is making sure the cars can race one another. ... Right now, if I'm staring at the guy in the front window, it doesn't matter if [I'm racing] for a billion dollars and 10 championships -- if I can't catch him, I can't catch him."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he wasn't excited about the proposed changes at first but has begun to warm up to them.
"Let's change it all. I'm all for it," Earnhardt said. "A lot of times we change things for the fans, and I think the drivers are going to enjoy some of this stuff as much as the fans are.
"When you look at other forms of sport, there's an elimination factor in the playoffs that we don't have. We, as drivers, don't feel the intensity of an elimination factor being over our shoulders every race. I feel like we've had it easy in that regard where we just tally up points. Coming down to Homestead with four guys [racing for the championship], that's crazy -- but it's exciting."
However, driver Ryan Newman doesn't necessarily agree with the elimination-style system.
"I don't think we can take everything the NFL or NBA is doing and say, 'We need to do it like this' because they're doing it like that and it's working," Newman said. "This is still stock-car racing. This is NASCAR. A certain percent of change is good, but we do not need to copy the playoff system."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.