NASCAR's proposed points change, Stewart's uncertain future, more
NASCAR may completely revamp its point system for the first time since 1975
A new points system could mean a less successful driver wins the N'wide title
Tony Stewart's slew of top-10s aren't making him a title factor in NASCAR
I'm a stats guy at heart. So when The Associated Press reported Monday that NASCAR was floating around a radical change to its points system, starting from scratch for the first time since 1975 (the Chase notwithstanding), it didn't take long for me to sit down, pull out a piece of paper and put this plan to action to see how it might work.
Let's break down what's likely to happen. According to the AP, NASCAR is working to simplify the system for fans, awarding 43 points for 1st place, 42 for 2nd, and all the way down in one-point increments to just a single point for 43rd. If you're confused, simply take the number 44, subtract your driver's finishing position and you have the number of points he scored that race.
But what about the bonus points, you're asking? That hasn't been divulged by NASCAR either, but let's pretend it's one point for leading a lap, two extra for leading the most and a three-point bonus for winning. So that would mean the max a driver could score per race is 48, leaving a possible 47-point swing between first and last place.
So how would such a points race change the game? To find out, I redid the outcome of the 2010 Chase using this possible system. Along with the bonus points outlined above, I adjusted Clint Bowyer's crippling penalty from 150 to 40 (its equivalent under the system) and gave drivers a 1-point bonus for each race win in the regular season compared to the 10 they get now. With that in mind, here's what your final 2010 championship results would look like:
Jimmie Johnson: 388
Kevin Harvick: 387
Denny Hamlin: 386
Carl Edwards: 340
Matt Kenseth: 314
Greg Biffle: 293
Tony Stewart: 287
Jeff Gordon: (+1) 279
Clint Bowyer: (+1) 272
Kyle Busch: (-2) 267
Kurt Busch: 265
Jeff Burton: 232
Wow! You're sitting there thinking. That would have been the closest Chase in history! Yeah ... in theory, Johnson would have won number five but squeaked by, taking it by just a point (or one position) over Hamlin and two over regular season points champion Harvick. Behind them, the field looks exactly the same compared to the old system except for one key change (which we'll get to in a minute): Kyle Busch slides down two spots in the standings while Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer each move up one.
In the meantime, let's break down the Johnson-Hamlin-Harvick battle heading into Homestead. One of the great storylines for the season's final race was how Johnson and Hamlin controlled their own destiny: if either won the 400-miler and led the most laps, the title was theirs. But a quick look at this possible new system shows that wouldn't have been the case last November:
Points with one race left:
That's right; under the points system detailed above, it would have been Harvick, not Johnson, in second place, with Hamlin holding a healthy lead entering the finale. All the Virginian would have to do is finish sixth or better and the title would be his, producing a scenario where he wouldn't have had to race aggressively from the back of the field after a poor starting spot. That, looking back, produced the cold reality last season in which he wrecked himself and his chance for the title at Homestead.
So as it turns out, this proposal would have increased the chances of a Hamlin cakewalk coronation at Homestead, not a nail-biter all the way to the checkered flag. But wait, there's more. Let's look at Kyle Busch's drop in the standings mentioned earlier. One of the sport's "boom or bust" hard chargers, Busch's Chase was derailed because of an ugly crash with David Reutimann and two additional DNFs. Well, turns out those rough endings would have hurt him more under this system. His 293 laps led compared to Gordon's 106 wouldn't have made a difference as consistency, not running up front, would have affected the point standings.
That, to me, means a lot going forward. In simplifying the system, it seems NASCAR would be making a ploy to push its attractiveness toward the 18-34 crowd, a generation it's been losing for several years now. (It's been well-documented, most recently in a tweet by Darren Rovell, how racing's aging fan base is catching up to it). But in conversations with fans and people in the garage, not once in five years have I heard someone say NASCAR's biggest problem is the point system is too complicated. Sure, you hear things like not enough points for winning, too many drivers in the Chase, get rid of the Chase and more points for leading laps, but never, ever "we don't understand how the point system works."
No, to me the main problem with NASCAR is the mere concept of a point system burdened with consistency taking hold: Drivers knowing on lap 100 that a fifth-place regular season finish, should they coast to the checkers, is better for them in the long run than risking a race win and crashing out. It's the boring midsection of races, drivers running single-file and saving their aggression for the final 20 laps and not all 500, that has left younger fans running for the exits. The sport needs to do something aggressive to bring a "Boys, Have At It" mentality from the drop of the green to the drop of the checkered flag.
That, more than anything, is what I see missing from this new point system proposal. NASCAR's trying to focus on consistency, not winning with ... more consistency? It's a head scratcher.
Curious to see what you think over the next week. Send me your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @NASCARBowles.
Why do so many people hate the Chase?
-- Noblebull, No Hometown
Loaded gun question. We've talked about it so many times in this space ... quick hits to me are tradition, a less meaningful regular season and a focus on 12 drivers, not 43.
Let's start with changing history. NASCAR is like baseball, where fans detest any adjustment to the sport they've felt was already near perfect. Bringing a giant snowball effect in the form of a postseason format is monumental for them. The year is now effectively "split" into two seasons of 26 races and 10 apiece. During the "regular season," some teams who have it made, like Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, use a portion of the races as test sessions to prepare for the playoffs. There are also drivers who will finish fourth, fifth and not fight for positions down the stretch to score points in order to hold their place in the standings. Considering the whole concept of a race is based on winning, fans never have appreciated that. Finally, once the 10-race postseason begins, a fan of a driver who didn't make the Chase (say, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) sees their driver virtually disappear on TV. Even if the driver is in contention during a race, focus turns almost exclusively to the point chase and those non-playoff contending drivers get ignored.
There you have it.
I can't tell you how nice it was to hear last week that disdain for "the Chase" isn't limited to some "disgruntled fans" that love nothing more than to complain. Too bad that NASCAR finds that fact astonishing. Also too bad that they made another half-baked decision as far as trying to give the Nationwide Series back its own identity. All they have really accomplished is to cheapen that title the same way they have the Cup title. It would have accomplished much more to limit Cup drivers not competing in their own equipment to, say, 10 races per year. But lately, nothing seems too cheap or low class for NASCAR to stoop to.
-- Sally Baker, Davison, Mich.
Yeah, a 10-race limit for Cup drivers would make sense, right? The Nationwide Series could get the best of both worlds: having their minor leaguers dip their toe into racing with Cup veterans while establishing new, future superstar names up front winning the majority of the races.
Now, you're going to have a system in place where Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski still win 25 or so of the series' 34 events. Yet they won't be eligible for or competing for the title, meaning some poor Nationwide regular could win the trophy based on no wins, the consistency of a handful of top-10 finishes and only, say, 50 or 75 total laps led. I don't think it's going to happen that way -- Aric Almirola, driving for JR Motorsports, is primed to have an outstanding year -- but leaving that door open means the problem wasn't solved.