Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Updated: January 27, 9:29 AM ET
NASCAR revamps points system
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France announced on Wednesday a new points system for its top three series that will make the sport simpler for fans to follow.
The governing body also announced it will set qualifying order based on practice speeds and set starting order on practice speeds if qualifying is rained out. Previously, qualifying order was determined by a draw and starting order was set on points.
But the changes to the points system was the biggest news as France unveiled the new formula at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to close Day 3 of the preseason media tour.
Under the new points system, drivers will be awarded 43 points for first place, 42 for second and one point less for every following position down to last. The winner will receive three bonus points with one bonus point awarded for leading a lap and one for leading the most laps.
The winner will receive a minimum of 47 points and a maximum of 48. Second will receive a minimum of 42 points and a maximum of 44.
The Chase field will remain 12 teams, but now the top 10 will be set on points with the next two spots based on wins for drivers not in the top 10, but inside the top 20. If there is a tie for either of the final two spots for most wins among those outside the top 10, the final spot or spots would be based on points. If all the wins are among top-10 drivers, the final two spots will be set on points.
Seeding for the Chase will be based on wins, with three points awarded for each during the first 26 races. But the 11th and 12th spots will not be awarded bonus seeding points for their wins.
Under this system, Jimmie Johnson still would have won his fifth consecutive championship last season, edging out Denny Hamlin by five points.
Under the old system, the winner received 190 points for winning and leading a lap, 195 if he led the most laps. Second received a minimum of 170 points and maximum of 180.
Under the old system, Johnson won the title by 39 points over Hamlin and 41 over Kevin Harvick.
NASCAR president Mike Helton said last week during testing at Daytona International Speedway that the governing body has been looking for some time to simplify the system for fans and drivers.
"Even for us we have to occasionally go to the rule book and look at what position got what points," Helton said. "The main goal is to get one that's just easier to understand and simpler, but you have to do that with credibility."
Helton defended the system that some believe will reward consistency over winning.
"We can continue enhancing the attention to and the appetite to win and bonus points and how we apply those to a basic simple structure to start with," he said.
The biggest question France and Helton had to address on Wednesday was why change the points system when fans have expressed more pressing concerns, such as shortening races, shortening the season and giving more points for wins, to name a few.
"We definitely communicated with our fan council," France said. "It's intuitive. We have a points system that is hard to describe for ourselves. We were sitting around trying to articulate every portion of it. ... We were unable to do it.
"And listen, we saw [in the Chase] going back and forth, Denny, Jimmie, Kevin, through the fall, and ... you needed a mathematician at the end and you still might to some degree. But it was complicated to follow."
France and Helton also defended the balance of the new system on consistency versus wins. The difference between first and last place under the old system was 20 percent, compared to two percent in the new system, which suggests drivers will be penalized heavier for a poor finish in the new system and make consistency more important.
Helton said there is room in the system to adjust and award more points for winning in the future, whether it's for the season or just the Chase.
"We don't ignore a change or make a change just for the sake of ignoring it or making it," Helton said. "We do things when we do it for the betterment of the entire community. The changes that we talked about today, it's a big deal to go from 43 to 1."
NASCAR discussed the change individually with Sprint Cup organizations before making a final decision. Officials considered awarding anywhere from one to three bonus points for winning, and as late as Monday told several teams two was the likely number.
France said the most important reason for the change is simplicity, even though he talked at the end of last season about expanding the Chase field to 15, and having eliminations and points resets during the Chase to create more "Game Seven" moments.
France said the new system will make the races tighter and suggested that allowing the final two Chase spots be set on wins did put more emphasis on winning.
"You think about it, you can get hot late and get in," France said. "If you're running 15th or 16th, you're just about out of the picture [under the old system]. And in the beginning of the season wins are going to matter because you may need one of those wins if you should have some DNFs down the road.
"So everywhere you turn you see that we may not take leaps in some instances, but you'll see a steady march to making and featuring winning as a more and more important part of this sport."
Johnson said earlier Wednesday he doesn't see the changes making a huge difference in the outcome of the championship.
"In theory, being consistent has always been the key," he said. "If you're in that 20th or 25th on down, you run out of points quick. You can lose a lot with a couple of bad races. That exists.
"The one thing I always remind myself is it's the same for everyone. Everybody has ups and downs. When you get to the Chase especially, we know you need a 5.0 finishing average or somewhere in that department to win. If you're racing for the big prize, I don't think there's a big change there."
Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, isn't concerned with the new structure.
"The strategy is we've got to make the Chase," he said. "If we can pull that off then we'll worry about winning the championship."
Asked if it was coincidental the change came after Johnson won his fifth-straight title, team owner Rick Hendrick said, "It is coincidental, isn't it? The first I heard about it, I started looking at how will this affect us.
"Really it comes out about the same, but I haven't had enough time to really study it," Hendrick said. "It looks to me if you're consistently near the top and have a guy that could win and he has a bad couple of races, you could be in trouble."
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon said the new system makes sense to him.
"There are times I've been confused by the points system," he said. "[This is] a way to simplify it and connect with the fans. Whether you're a veteran or a new fan, you're making it more relevant to the positions on the track. It'll make it easier for the commentators to talk about and analyze for the championship battle.
"Especially as tight as these battles are going all the way to the final race. That's one of the things I heard in that meetings I'm pretty excited about."
Seven-time champion Richard Petty agreed a simpler point system is good, but he wasn't in favor of giving bonus points for anything.
"That has nothing to do with the race," the owner of Richard Petty Motorsports said. "We're the only sport there is that gives points or gives relief for leading a race or winning a race. ... Basketball, the last shot has got to count. You could lead the whole ballgame or golf game, and get beat on the last deal and that's it, you're beat.
"That's the way it ought to be in NASCAR. They ought to make it so simple a 10-year-old can keep up with points."
The qualifying changes will put more of a premium on practice, particularly on weekends when there is a threat of rain.
Last year, Harvick won poles in the Martinsville spring race and July Daytona race as the points leader. Johnson claimed the pole at the spring Talladega race.
In 2009, six races were set by points after qualifying was washed out and in 2008 there were 10.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.