NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France announced that the sanctioning body has added a wild card element to setting the Chase for the Sprint Cup field and it has simplified its points system for 2011, making it easier for fans, competitors and the industry to understand.
The Chase will still consist of 12 drivers, under the new format. But, only the top 10 is determined by the drivers points standings. The final two spots are determined by the number of wins in the first 26 races.
Those two spots will go to non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most wins inside of the top 20 in points. They will not be given bonus points for wins and will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively. This is done to ensure that consistency and winning are rewarded for those in the top 10.
The fans tell us that winning matters the most with them, so we’re combining the tradition of consistency in our sport with the excitement that comes along with winning. This makes every race count leading into the 26th race of the season at Richmond, when we set the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
France also unveiled a new points system for all NASCAR national series. Under the new system, points will be awarded in one-point increments. In the Sprint Cup Series, for example, race winners will earn 43 points, plus three bonus points for the win. Winners also can earn an extra point for leading a lap and leading the most laps, bringing their total to a possible maximum of 48 points.
All others will be awarded points in one-point increments down to one point for finishing 43rd. In the Camping World Truck Series, the last-place finisher will receive eight points to account for the 36-truck field.
Many of our most loyal fans don’t fully understand the points system we have used to date. So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow.
Also, other competition changes were announced:
- Drivers must now pick a series in which they’ll compete for a driver championship. Drivers still may compete in multiple series and help their teams win owner titles. But they may not compete for a driver title.
- The qualifying order will be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds. In the event of inclement weather, the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds. If weather cancels practice sessions, then the starting lineup will be set by points.
- Sprint Cup teams are now allowed five sets of tires for practice and qualifying instead of six. They must return four of those sets to Goodyear in order to receive their race allotment. Race allotments vary according to historical performance data.
- All three NASCAR national series now use the self-ventilating fuel can, which eliminates the need for a seventh over-the-wall pit crew member who held the catchcan to catch the fuel that might spill from the vent on the back of the car.
- NASCAR is working with manufacturers to develop a Sprint Cup car that looks more like their street counterparts. To that end, Sprint Cup cars will feature a new nose that eliminates the splitter braces that appeared on the COT. The new front facia will be smoother, and give the cars more brand identity.
Update: Jayski  added some other notes about the new scoring system:
- In the event of a tie for the wild card Chase spots, the playoff spot goes to the driver with the most points.
- If no drivers have wins after the 10th position, the last two positions in the Chase will go to the 11th and 12th pace drivers.
- The wild card drivers will receive no bonus points and will start with a base of 2,000 points. The previous Chase featured a 5,000-point base and 10 points per win to start the Chase.
- Any penalties will be adjusted for the new system. Last year some penalties were as high as 150 points.
- In the event that qualifying is rained out, the same rules use last season (past champion, top 35, etc.) will be used to determine who makes the race. The starting order, however, will be based on practice speeds.
- Points will not be given to owners that do not make the race, but NASCAR will keep track of attempts.