On NASCAR: Drivers get the wins; fans get the points

By Cathy Elliott
On NASCAR: Drivers get the wins; fans get the points

During his annual State of the Union address on Jan. 25, President Barack Obama did something nearly unprecedented in politics – he had Republicans and Democrats actually sit together in one big, co-mingled group. Generally, the two opposing parties are separated from one another like family members at Thanksgiving dinner, although it can sometimes be challenging to tell which table belongs to the grownups and which to the kids.



Just one day later, in his ‘State of the Sport’ address on Jan. 26, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France did much the same thing, informing the assembled press corps and a live TV audience that the 2011 season would serve to better blend the sport’s top two performance aspects.



Consistency has always been critical to success in NASCAR, which has the longest season in professional sports. It’s not exactly what you might call breaking news, but during his remarks, France pinpointed another characteristic particularly important to fans – “They care about winning. They don't want drivers to just be content with a good points day or a good run,” he said.



Since the inception of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format in 2004,‘racing for points’ during the first 26 races of the season simply meant a driver worked his way into the Top 12, then did whatever was necessary to ensure he stayed there. If this meant ‘laying up’ and settling for a Top 5 or Top 10 finish instead of going whole-hog for the win, he did it, in order to have an opportunity to race for the title at the end of the year.


I don’t remember this being much of an issue in the early years of the Chase, but things did flare up a bit in 2009 when Juan Pablo Montoya publicly stated that he had been points racing all season, with the single purpose of making the Chase. A lot of fans didn’t really grasp the charm of that comment.



Another thing fans haven’t altogether grasped over the years is NASCAR’s somewhat complicated scoring system. During a Jan. 21 press conference at Daytona International Speedway, Kevin Harvick remarked that at the end of the 2010 season, he had gotten a text message from New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, congratulating him on a good season but noting,” I don't understand how you have the best year and not win. I don't understand your points system."



Now, I’m the type who, when required to figure out a restaurant tip or double a recipe, still occasionally suffers from a sort of post-testing stress disorder, flashing back to the math portion of the SAT. And granted, baseball’s scoring system is pretty easy to understand – you get a W when you win and an L when you lose and that pretty much sums it up.



But I get Girardi’s point. We shouldn’t have to work quite as hard as Abbott and Costello to figure out who’s on first. 



NASCAR agrees, and to that end, is implementing changes in the way post-race points are allocated.



The new system is about as basic as it gets. Forty-three drivers start each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The winner will get 43 points, the last-place finisher will get 1 point, and you can figure out the middle part for yourself.



Additionally, there are three bonus points for the win, one for leading a lap, and one for leading the most laps. The total number of possible points for a single driver is 48.



NASCAR is a sport of numbers, and France addressed many more of them during his speech. The Chase will still consist of 12 drivers – the top 10 in points at the end of the regular, plus the two drivers in slots 11 through 20 with the most regular season wins. If there are no winners in the 11-20 group, drivers in the 11th and 12th points positions will qualify for the title run, as in seasons past.



When the Chase begins, drivers will be re-seeded, awarded three points for each win. Qualifying order will be set by practice speeds rather than the luck of the draw.



And on the 10th anniversary of his death, tribute will be paid to Dale Earnhardt, Sr.



The major discussion point, however, was the restructuring of the points. No longer will we have to worry about possessing the capability of constructing rockets in the garage in order to figure out the driver standings from week to week, because NASCAR has made it so simple that it’s practically impossible for us to misfigure and misfire. This will be much more fun for us, and much safer for the neighbors.



So you and I. And Joe Girardi, too, will understand NASCAR’s new math, which looks like it’s going to add up to one great big W.


Comments powered by Disqus