Jimmie Johnson supports NASCAR overhauling Chase for the Sprint Cup format

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Though it may seem NASCAR is trying to prevent Jimmie Johnson from winning another title, the reigning Sprint Cup champion is in favor of the new Chase format.

The news was delivered to Jimmie Johnson in a phone call. NASCAR CEO Brian France personally reached out to Johnson informing him that the format for how NASCAR determined its champion would be radically altered.

At first the reigning and six-time Sprint Cup champion was taken aback. An explainable reaction considering NASCAR was essentially incorporating a winner-take-all approach to be contested among four drivers for the year's final race.

"It just caught me off guard and shocked me," Johnson said Tuesday during the second day of NASCAR's media tour. "I told Brian when he called me, ‘Just give me a minute to adjust, because I'm on my heels.'"

"I think NASCAR probably does care who wins the championship, but they're not laying awake at night wondering how to keep the 48 from winning."-Jimmie Johnson

And Johnson could be excused if he saw the reconstruction of the Chase as a slight to what he had accomplished over the last 10 years. In that span he collected six championships and came close to winning several others.

Yet because his dominance is viewed as boring and off-putting by a large sector of fans, Johnson has often been the scapegoat for NASCAR's decline in popularity. All of which is why he might feel officials were trying to stack the deck against him.

"It's crossed my mind, I'm not going to lie," Johnson said.

But with some time and perspective his thinking has changed.

"I don't think I'm the reason that things have declined in the sport and viewership is down," Johnson said. "I don't think NASCAR is picking on me or trying to keep me from winning the championship. I really don't. The conversations I've had with Brian and other NASCAR executives they like history, they like those big monumental moments. I by no means think this is an attack on the 48."

"I think NASCAR probably does care who wins the championship, but they're not laying awake at night wondering how to keep the 48 from winning."

Johnson is a believer in change -- especially if it leads to an increase in television ratings and ticket sales. However, he did not expect such a sweeping overhaul and thought NASCAR might do something less drastic to increase the entertainment value of its product.

"We needed something big, and I don't know if this is the bullet," he said. "I really hope it is, because it is a huge change."

The rumored modifications, which are expected to be made official Thursday, will include an expansion of the Chase field to 16 drivers and will utilize eliminations after the third, sixth and ninth playoff races. It will be the fourth time NASCAR has made a significant change since 2004.

Most drivers throughout the media tour have spoken favorably about the new system.

"I wasn't really excited about change that much until a lot of change started happening, and then you kinda had to get used to it," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "Now let's change it all. I'm all for it."

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