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.

Finally, those cars finishing out of the top 10 go home with nothing. This isn’t just cruelty; it keeps the back-markers from recklessly racing, and oftentimes wrecking each other or some of the contenders in their zeal to score a measly couple of points.

Nothing drives me crazier than somebody in 39th place causing carnage late in a race because he was hell-bent on passing the guy in 38th place. So I would love to see NASCAR adopt a hybrid system. Take the IndyCar scoring distribution, but only down to 30th place; then, as in F1, everyone from 31st to 43rd would get no points, to put a stop to the kamikaze driving among the also-rans.

I applaud NASCAR for rethinking its old points system, and there is certainly no shame in not getting the new scale exactly right in this first iteration. But while NASCAR remains far more popular here than either the IndyCar Series or Formula 1, there’s no reason the Sprint Cup can’t take the best of those series to make its own product even more appealing.

Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she blogs about taxes and other financial topics at www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com.


LOOSE LUGNUTS

You go, Joe I have a new hero, Joe Denette, who hit the lottery and used his winnings to start a race team. Denette was laid off his job in Fredericksburg, Va., in 2009, but continued to watch NASCAR and play the lottery. As fate would have it, the day he discovered he’d bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket worth $70 million was also the day he attended the spring Sprint Cup race at Richmond.

Part of his prize package was a pace car ride around Richmond International Speedway with Mega Millions ambassador and fellow Virginian Hermie Sadler. A few months later, Denette got in touch with Sadler about starting up a Camping World Series truck team, and it made its debut earlier this season. Joe Denette Motorsports, as it is known, is running a Chevrolet with a technical alliance with Kevin Harvick Inc., and the truck is being driven by Jason White. The truck proudly carries No. 23, also the number of lottery tickets Denette bought the year he won the big bucks.

More for Texas Speaking of F1, the promoters of the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, have announced a 10-year agreement to host the hugely popular Moto GP motorcycle series. Moto GP currently holds events in Indianapolis and Laguna Seca as part of its 18-race global schedule, and it remains unclear whether the Austin race will be a new one or, as rumored, will take Indianapolis’ slot on the calendar. Austin officials also plan to use the new facility for activities including concerts, banquets, corporate outings, and even as a training center for emergency care professionals and medical school students.

Let’s get Rowdy Also new to the truck series this spring is former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen who, in what has to be the year’s biggest eyebrow-raiser, has begun driving a limited schedule for Kyle Busch motor­sports. Raikkonen won the 2007 title for Ferrari, made more than $100 million driving in F1, and is still competing in the World Rally Championships. He’s a tough and aggressive driver, and should be quite fun to watch. And driving for Busch makes perfect sense — he was, in essence, the Kyle Busch of F1, and certainly won’t be afraid to push and shove with anyone, including his new boss. If he needs a NASCAR nickname, I think “Rowdy ­Raikkonen” would fit just fine.

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