The 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup features a number of changes compared to previous seasons. The alterations to what has become a successful system have had and will have a knock-on effect on what is to follow.
Firstly; two of the 12 eligible drivers have made their way in by virtue of their win tallies during the regular season (although the two drivers in question, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, lay in 11th and 12th spots in the points anyway after last weekend's Richmond race). Both drivers enter the 10-race playoff with 2000 points and inelgible for the three-point bonus that is awarded for each win to the 10 highest-placed drivers in the table at the end of the regular season. This particularly affects Keselowski, who is giving away nine points to his rivals as a result of his wildcard status.
Secondly; there have been some calendar changes. New Hampshire, which had traditionally opened the Chase in recent seasons, has been moved back a week with Chicagoland taking its place instead. Additionally, the series visit to Kansas will be its second of 2011 - the venue having secured an additional regular season slot this year in addition to its Chase berth. It's worth noting too that barely two months after teams tested on Phoenix's new surface - and complained of precious little grip - that this oval will stage one of the deciding races too.
Once again the biggest names in NASCAR are in contention for the title, led by five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who looks like the obvious favourite with all the stats backing up his status. A rejuvenated Jeff Gordon enters the playoff with the greatest momentum of all, while a slightly more mature Kyle Busch starts the Chase from the lead for the second time in his career - remember how his chances crumbled to nothing three years ago?