The 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup worked out just as NASCAR hoped when the new playoff format was rolled out for this season.
Under a formula that was touted to put more emphasis on winning, Kevin Harvick claimed his first series championship by winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
"I don't think there's any doubt about the level of competition that is up, which has our fans excited, and it has the interest level of the sport as a result of that higher, and that's precisely what we want to achieve," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said.
The championship came down Harvick and Ryan Newman in the closing laps of the Homestead race. That pair finished first and second, respectively, in the race and the season-ending standings.
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano were the other two championship contenders remaining in the Chase that began with 16 drivers 10 races ago. All but Newman started the Homestead race in the top 10, and for much of the day, all four ran in or just outside the top five.
As the Chase progressed from round to round, with four drivers eliminated every three races, winless driver Newman kept his championship hopes alive by squeaking through on points. With Newman's continuing run, critics of the Chase pointed at the possibility of a winless driver claiming the Sprint Cup, something that has never happened in NASCAR Cup level history.
France emphasized that while wins are important, consistency also needs to count for something in the championship system.
"Well, I think it's accomplished -- naturally you would expect me to think that it accomplished all of our goals, probably exceeded them, in the balance between winning and consistency," France said. "We always know in auto racing there needs to be both, but we felt strongly that by emphasizing winning on the track, we might not have had that balanced correctly. We do now. We think that that's in a really good place."
Harvick's win of the race and, as a result, the championship silenced those critics, at least for the time being. Harvick won a total of five races on the season, winning twice during the 26-race regular season and three times in the 10-race Chase. His final three victories came in the final six races of the season.
Throughout the Homestead-Miami Speedway race weekend, ideas for Chase tweaks were tossed around. Those with new concepts included NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
"I proposed something to NASCAR and maybe I've said this to a number of y'all before," Jarrett said. "My solution to the situation, and we'll use this year. Ryan Newman's here, but (under my proposal), the only way he could become the champion is if he wins this race. Otherwise, the other three are the ones racing for the championship, to finish ahead of each other."
Gordon's idea didn't remedy the possibility of a winless champion. Instead, Gordon wished for a distinct points system for the Chasers, separate from other drivers in the postseason.
"I would say that the one thing that I thought about -- and this would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it's the right thing to do -- and that's you have a separate points system just for the 16 and then for the eight, or the 12 and then the eight," Gordon said. "I just think there's so many factors with all the other competitors out there that you should be racing those guys. You should be racing them in points, not necessarily racing them and all the other competitors out there. I think you've earned that right.