The Sprint Cup Series (often shortened to Sprint Cup or the Cup Series) is the top racing series of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). The series was originally known as the Strictly Stock Series (1949) and Grand National Series (1950-1970). While leasing its naming rights to R. J.
Reynolds Tobacco Company, it was known as the Winston Cup Series (1971-2003). When a similar deal was made with Sprint Nextel Corporation, it became the NEXTEL Cup Series (2004-2007). It is sometimes erroneously referred to as simply, NASCAR.
The drivers champion is determined by a point system where points are given according to finishing placement and laps led. The season is divided into two segments. After the first 26 races, the 12 highest ranked drivers are seeded based on their total number of wins and compete in the last 10 races with the difference in points greatly equalized. This is called the Chase for the Championship.
The series holds strong roots in the Southeastern United States with half of its 36 race season in that region. However, it has grown to become one of the six most popular professional sports in the United States. The Daytona 500, its most prestigious race, had a television audience in the U.S. of about 16 million viewers in 2009. Previously, races have been held in Canada, and exhibition races were held in Japan and Australia.
Sprint Cup Series cars are unique in automobile racing. The engines are powerful enough to reach speeds over 200 mph (320 km/h), but high weight makes for poor handling. Their bodies and chassis are strictly regulated to ensure parity, and electronics are generally spartan in nature.
The Sprint Cup Owner's Championship operates in the same manner as the Driver's Championship, but awarding points to each individual car (even if an owner enters more than one car, they are viewed and scored as separate entities).
The points awarded are identical to the drivers' list, but with one addition in the event of more than 43 cars attempting to qualify for a race, owner's points are awarded to each car in the following manner: the fastest non qualifier (in essence, 44th position) receives 31 points, three less than the 43rd position car.
If there is more than one non qualifying car, owners' points continue to be assigned in the manner described, decreasing by three for each position.
There is a separate "chase for the championship" for the owners' points.
A 2005 rule change in NASCAR's three national series affects how the owner's points are used. The top 35 (Sprint Cup), or top 30 (other series) full-time teams in owner points are awarded exemptions for the next race, guaranteeing them a position in the next race. These points can decide who is in and out the next race, and have become crucial since the exemption rule was changed to its current format. At the end of each season, the top 35 in owner's points are also locked into the first five races of the next season.
In some circumstances, a team's owners' points will differ from the corresponding driver's points. In 2005, after owner Jack Roush fired Kurt Busch during the next-to-last race weekend of the season, the #97 team finished in eighth place in owner's points, while Busch ended up tenth in driver's points. In 2002, when Sterling Marlin was injured, the #40 team finished eighth in owner's points, while Marlin was 18th in driver's points, because of substitute drivers Jamie McMurray and Mike Bliss, who kept earning owner points for the #40.
A Manufacturer's Championship is awarded each year, although the Driver's Championship is considered more prestigious. In the past, manufacturer's championships were very prestigious because of the number of manufacturers involved, and the manufacturer's championship was a major marketing tool. In the Nationwide Series, the championship is known as the Bill France Performance Cup.
Points are scored in a 1960/1990 Formula One system, with the winner's manufacturer scoring nine points, six for the next manufacturer, four for the manufacturer third among makes, three for the fourth, two for the fifth, and one point for the sixth positioned manufacturer. This means that if Chevrolets place first through tenth in a given race and a Ford is 11th and a Dodge 12th, Chevrolet earns 9 points, Ford 6 and Dodge 4.