As part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR announced competition changes for the 2011 racing season. Among the changes are restructuring the current points system and modifying the method of qualifying the final two drivers for the Chase for the Championship.

NASCAR announced Wednesday that it has added a wild card element to setting the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field and it has simplified its points system for 2011, making it easier for fans, competitors and the industry to understand. 

While the 12-driver Chase field remains intact, the final two spots will be determined by the number of wins during the first 26 races.

The top 10 in points following Race No. 26 – the “cutoff” race – continue to earn Chase berths.

Positions 11 and 12 are “wild card” qualifiers and will go to non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most wins, as long as they’re ranked in the top 20 in points.

Under this format, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will likely be a key race for drivers looking for qualify for one of the two wild card positions. 

"When it gets down to Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, things are going to really get exciting," said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

The top-10 Chase drivers will continue to be seeded based on wins during the first 26 races, with each win worth three bonus points. The wild card drivers will not receive bonus points for wins and will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively. It’s a move aimed towards rewarding winning and consistency during the regular season.

France made the announcements at the NASCAR Hall of Fame during NASCAR’s annual media event as part of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.

“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,” said France. “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.”

The new points system – which applies to all NASCAR national series – will award points in one-point increments. As an example, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 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 other drivers in a finishing order will be separated by one-point increments. A second-place finisher will earn 42 points, a third-place driver 41 points, and so on. A last-place finisher – 43rd place – earns one point. In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the last-place finisher receives eight points, to account for that series’ 36-driver race field.

“Many of our most loyal fans don’t fully understand the points system we have used to date,” said France, referencing the system that has been in use since 1975. “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.”

Atlanta Motor Speedway President and GM Ed Clark applauded NASCAR for the changes.

"NASCAR is to be saluted for their off-season work on the significant program changes announced today. The new elements will keep the sport fresh and interesting for both long-time fans and new followers of the sport," Clark said. "The changes to NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying will bring a great amount of drama back to pole qualifying day. We will see new heroes emerge in the Nationwide Series as drivers now have to choose what series they want to run for a title in. And, with the point system changes, there will be a heightened level of competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. 2011 will be a very interesting season."

Other competitive enhancements announced Wednesday:

Pick a Series – Drivers in all three national series now must select the series where they’ll compete for a driver championship. Drivers still may compete in multiple series and help their teams win owner titles in series where they’re not competing for a driver title. The move helps spotlight young talent in the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

New Qualifying Procedure – The qualifying order will be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds.

Inclement Weather Qualifying – If bad weather cancels qualifying, the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds. The same rule book procedures will be used to determine eligibility to start a race. If weather cancels practice sessions, then the starting lineup will be set by points, per the rule book.

Tire Rules Revision – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams now are 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, and may keep one set of practice/qualifying tires. Tire allotments for race weekends will vary according to historical performance data.

Closed Loop Fueling System – Introduced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, this goes into effect for all three national series in 2011. It combines a more efficient fueling system with the elimination of the catch-can man, considered the most “vulnerable” pit-crew member. Teams now will use six, rather than seven, over-the-wall pit-crew members.

Evolution Of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Car – NASCAR continues to work with the manufacturers and teams to enhance the look of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car. The cars have new fronts this season and the body makeover will continue to help appeal to fans and aid manufacturer identity.