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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Winning takes backseat to consistency

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR officials want to make things easier to understand. This new 43/1 points system will do that for you, along with the competitors.

Take that however you wish. You could just say "Thanks, I appreciate it." Or you could say, "I don't need you to dumb it down for me."

But here's the summation of the new plan: It really doesn't change much at all.

That's right. It's the same old lump of coal wrapped in a shiny new package. Just call it the old points system on a diet.

The new plan has the same "simple" problem: Not enough points for winning.

NASCAR chairman Brian France made the official announcement of the 43/1 plan Tuesday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte.

"One thing is clear," France said in his opening statement. "The fans care about winning."

Brian France
NASCAR chairman Brian France on the league's new points system: "The most important reason for this change is simplicity."

Yes, but NASCAR seemingly cares only a little more than it did a day ago.

The new format has one small move to emphasize victories. The last two spots of the Chase will go to the drivers with the most wins who aren't in the top 10 in the standings, but still ranked in the top 20.

If there's a tie, the playoff spot goes to the driver with the most points.

"This puts an emphasis on winning, even if you have some bad luck," France said.

True enough. Two wild cards get in the playoff by winning, a move I applaud. Once the Chase starts, it's back to the same old thing.

"What all our models show is this system will tighten things up in the regular season and the Chase," France said. "And we are making a steady movement to feature winning."

Steady, maybe, but painfully slow. The new points system has similar flaws to the old one. Winning isn't a big deal.

The winner receives 43 points, with each spot decreasing by one fewer point down to one for 43rd place. Simple and easy. Even your dog can tap it out on his paws.

"It makes sense, "Jeff Gordon said Tuesday. "I know at times I've been confused by [the old 195-maximum points system]. This can make [the points] relevant to the fans for positions on the track."

But the bonus points still make things a little confusing. A driver gets three bonus points for winning the race. And he also gets one bonus point for leading a lap.

So every winner is guaranteed to receive at least 47 points. Leading the most laps also is worth one point.

That means the biggest differential possible between first and second is six points (48 to 42). The smallest differential possible between first and second is three points (47 to 44) if the runner-up leads the most laps.

Let me save you the trouble. I did the math. The differential percentages between winning and finishing second are almost identical to the old system.

How is that emphasizing winning?

"We didn't make a fundamental change on winning," France admitted. "We've always had a balance, and we like that. We didn't want to change it too much. We have to be cautious. We still have 43 cars racing out there. We can't measure things just on wins alone."

It makes sense. I know at times I've been confused by [the old 195-maximum points system]. This can make [the points] relevant to the fans for positions on the track.

-- Jeff Gordon

No one is saying consistency should be ignored, but it shouldn't trump winning.

NASCAR legend Richard Petty disagrees. A few hours before the announcement Tuesday, Petty said he didn't want any bonus points for winning. The King's point was other sports don't give a bonus for winning.

Sorry to disagree, Richard, but other sports are all about winning. If NASCAR wanted a championship system like other sports, the man who won the most races each year would win the title.

Petty is right about no bonus points. Just throw that out. The winner should receive a lot more points than second (at least 25 percent more) regardless of who led the most laps.

The big differential in the new system comes at the low end. In the old system, a winner received about five times as many points as the last-place finisher.

Now the winner will receive at least 47 times as many points, assuming the driver in last place doesn't lead a lap. That's a gigantic penalty for one bad day.

But what the heck. It is easier to figure out. The bottom line here is simplification in an era when people want to know things immediately.

"Now everyone knows if a driver is 10 points down he needs to pass 11 cars," France said. "The most important reason for this change is simplicity."

That part is accomplished. Tweet it. Put it on Facebook.

"NASCAR is being smart," five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said Tuesday. "They are trying to catch that 18-to-24 [age] demographic."

Good idea, but this doesn't do it.

You want to know how to do it? Make the races all about winning.

That's simple enough.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.