Darlington president guarantees Southern 500 winner will make championship chase

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WACH) - The president of Darlington Raceway says the winner of this year's Southern 500 is a lock to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

NASCAR has overhauled its championship format to create an elimination, winner-take-all system designed to reward "the most battle-tested" driver at the end of the season.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will now be a 16-driver field with a premium placed on winning.

"The new point format rewards drivers and teams for taking risks and laying it out on the line every lap to get to Gatorade Victory Lane. The winner of the Bojangles' Southern 500 is a guaranteed lock to make the Chase," said Darlington Raceway president Chip Wile. "The new system is going to create a more competitive on-track product. The days of points racing are over."

NASCAR will cut four drivers from the field after every three races in the 10-race Chase, leaving four eligible drivers headed into the season finale. The first of those four to cross the finish line will be crowned champion.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Thursday the new format has no math and no bonus points and is "simple as it gets."

Darlington Raceway hosts the Southern 500 on April 12.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)