Views from the Grandstands

Kay Bell | June 01, 2011

What’s the Points?

NASCAR’s revamped driver points system is better, but not good enough

The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is rolling right along, and so far I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. Trevor Bayne’s victory at Daytona was really cool, I was very pleased to see “old man” Jeff Gordon win again, and the spring race at Talladega was genuinely exciting.

Jimmie Johnson climbs out of the No.48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in victory lane after winning the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

 One thing I’m not sure about, though, is the new points system. I certainly agreed that NASCAR needed to overhaul its ridiculously confusing old system, but I think they went too far in trying to make this one simple.

The new system works like this: There are 43 cars in the field each week, and the winner gets 43 points. The second-place finisher gets 42, third place gets 41, and so on down to the end in one-point increments, where the 43rd-place finisher gets 1 point. Nice and easy, right?

Wrong. The winner doesn’t actually get 43 points. Instead, he gets 43 plus an additional 3 points for the victory, and NASCAR still awards 1 point for leading a lap and 1 point for leading the most laps. So each winner actually gets 47 points — 43 for the win plus 1 for leading at least one lap (the last lap) — or 48 if he also leads the most laps.

The point, pardon the pun, of this change was to make it easier for everyone to figure out exactly what each driver needed to do to improve his position in the standings. For example, Joey Logano starts a race 10 points behind Carl Edwards, so he needs to beat Edwards by 11 spots to move ahead of him. Except, like I said, the bonus points make the on-the-fly calculations not as automatic as NASCAR hoped.

My real problem, though, is that NASCAR is still rewarding consistency more than winning. I appreciate consistency, but no one watches a race to see who’s consistent. We watch to see who wins. And I believe NASCAR ought to calibrate its points system to reward the most prolific winners, not to keep the drivers artificially bunched together to create the illusion of a tight points race (that Jimmie Johnson wins all the time anyway).

Interestingly, both Formula 1 and the IndyCar Series manage to put on close, compelling title chases that go down to the last race more years than not, without the need for a playoff system.

In contrast to NASCAR, the IndyCar Series’ points system is dramatic. It offers 52 points for a win, 41 for second, 35 for third, then 32 for fourth and 28 for fifth, with points going down all the way to 5 for the last-place finisher. That 11-point spread between first and second really puts an emphasis on winning, and the big points totals for second and third mean those spots are much more valuable than other spots farther down in the top 10.

Formula 1, which has crowned five different champions in the past five seasons — that’s the kind of parity NASCAR can only dream about — gives its race winner 25 points, with 18 for second, 15 for third, 12 for fourth, 10 for fifth, 8 for sixth, 6 for seventh, 4 for eighth, 2 for ninth and 1 for 10th place, and none for anyone else.

There are three things to love about the F1 system. First, no bonus points of any kind. Second, the spread between first and second is seven points out of a 24-car field. That is a significant, and just, reward for a victory. If you were to convert this system to NASCAR, a winner would get 55 points instead of just 43 (also awfully close to the IndyCar points distribution), while the second-place finisher would get 35.

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