NASCAR hoping simplified points system will put emphasis on wins
NASCAR is hoping a Points Racing for Dummies approach will help solve some complicated problems, but whether the new simplified scoring system CEO Brian France announced Wednesday night helps boost attendance and television ratings remains to be seen.
The points system for 2011 scraps the often confusing and convoluted points formula to one that even a first-grader can understand. First place pays 43 points and last place pays 1 point, with every position in between separated by one point. Three bonus points will be awarded to the winner of a race along with one bonus point for leading a lap and one point for leading the most laps.
That's a system even the most math-challenged spectator, media member or driver can easily figure out and one the only driver to win the Cup title under two different formats praised.
"The biggest thing is knowing it's the same for everybody and knowing we all understand it," said Tony Stewart, who won in '02 when points were accumulated for the entire 36-race schedule and in '05, one year after the 10-race Chase format was introduced. "It's good for our fans to understand it, too. They won't have to sit in the grandstands with a calculator in their hand at Homestead trying to figure out what it is going to take to win a championship in the last race.
"This is by far the easiest system I've ever seen to know where everybody is at. Everybody can write it down and understand because it is so easy."
The driver who has sometimes been critical of NASCAR's decisions liked the due diligence leadership used to devise the new, simple formula.
"They get suggestions from everybody but they don't make knee-jerk reactions," Stewart said. "They go in there and calculate it out. NASCAR is smarter than all of us standing here right now because they look at it from different perspectives and it is very easy to get tunnel vision on a topic and think you are right. If they think there is a negative to it that doesn't work, they consider that. They don't make calls just to have a reaction; they sit down to think this out."
Some could call these changes the Jimmie Johnson Rule.
Although Johnson's record streak of five-straight Cup titles is perhaps the most impressive run in NASCAR history, some fans have grown tired of seeing the same driver win the championship year after year.
When Matt Kenseth won the '03 title with just one race victory, NASCAR dramatically changed the system to created the Chase. Some derisively called it the Matt Kenseth Rule.
Earlier Wednesday, Johnson weighed in on his opinion of the new changes. In the 43-1 points system, a bad finish affects a driver worse than a good finish helps. It's not where a driver needs to finish but where he can't finish.
"There were still some tweaks they wanted to make when NASCAR talked to us yesterday but in my heart I don't think it is much different from what we have now," Johnson said. "In theory, it doesn't seem to be that big of a deal. Some drivers and owners have been lobbying for the same amount of points from 25th on down so that we don't have a lot of wrecked cars running around in the races. NASCAR brought up a good point to where you can unfairly lose positions on the track with start and park cars to where it makes more sense to actually earn those points on the track."
NASCAR president Mike Helton explained why they decided to continue to score points all the way to 43rd position.
"If you have a few races where you don't collect points whatsoever, you have a huge challenge to make up so we decided to continue to award points all the way through the field," Helton said.
Despite the change, it remains a consistency-based scoring system. A driver needs to run up front and accumulate top-five and top-10 finishes.
"I've intentionally not been too involved in the points because it could make me look like a fool if I complain about the points system," Johnson said. "Whatever they decide to do I'm going to sign up and try to win."
But do the fans really need a simpler system?
"Sometimes I get stuck with figuring out what is what but [in last season's finale at Homestead], unless you were watching on television to see the calculation what was going on the screen, you had no idea what was going on," Johnson said. "This would be a step in the direction to let people know what is going on. We are getting down to make the experience better and better. NASCAR wants fans that go to the track for the first time to understand what is going on.
"We have to learn what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong."
NASCAR officials believe the new scoring system with its reduced points margin will put more of an emphasis on winning.
"The fans have been clear -- they care about winning," France said.
But Stewart believes the format still rewards efforts made throughout the year.
"It is a season and that is why they call it a season," Stewart said. "It's not about just one race or two races or a particular win; you have to be good all season long. There has been too much emphasis put on winning versus these teams have to work hard for a 36-race season. I don't think there should be too much emphasis on winning."
It's another caveat to making the Chase that Stewart really likes. Positions 11 and 12 in the 12-driver lineup will go to the two drivers with the most victories during the 26-race regular season who are not among the 10 drivers that get into the playoff based on point standings, so long as they are in the top 20 in points.
Jamie McMurray won two of the biggest races on the schedule last year, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, but didn't make the Chase and in '09, Kyle Busch won four races but also missed the Chase. Under the new format, both of those drivers would be among the drivers that compete for the championship.
"That's a twist that really makes sense," Stewart said. "There have been drivers that have been mathematically out of it that had good runs and had three or four instances during the season that were out of their control that took them out of the Chase. To be able to get in on their own merit makes a lot of sense to me. It's a good example of how NASCAR thought about how it affects guys that have had bad luck."
It can give some drivers a go-for-broke attitude heading into the cutoff race for the Chase.
"It gives somebody that is 19th or 20th in the points standings a chance to get in with one more race win," Stewart said. "It could potentially be nine or 10 guys that have a chance to get into the Chase in that last race."
The other change announced Wednesday night was that qualification order will be determined by practice speeds, with the slowest drivers going out first and the fastest going out last. If qualifications are rained out, the starting lineup will be based on practice speeds. If practice is rained out, the lineup will be set by the current Sprint Cup standings.
But with other issues to address such as a sluggish economy, declining attendance and television ratings, why did NASCAR decide to change the points system for the third time in seven years? This came just two years after France announced they were going to "leave things alone" because the fans had grown tired and confused from so many changes.
"Everything we have is a moving target," Helton said. "It always has been. We are going to make adaptations to it so that we make the sport better. We do things when we do it for the betterment of our entire community. It's a big deal to go from 43-to-1 but we wanted to give fans an opportunity to figure out how ours are calculated; to give a fan an opportunity to sit in the grandstand and look at the track and understand that one position on that track is worth one more point. If a fan can calculate that than they are engaged in the race.
"The steps we don't take are not necessarily wrong but if we do our job right it's to lay it out for everybody and if they know they are competing against everybody else they know what the playing field is."