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Woody: New System Has Good Points And Glitches

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 16 2011

The Sprint Cup Series has a new points system. But will it produce a new champion? (File photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR’s new championship system is set to launch, and since every other life form in the known Solar System has waded in on it, here’s my take:

It’s essentially the same as the old system(s). Drivers are awarded a certain number of points based on their order of finish. That means that the driver who consistently finishes the highest over the course of the season will probably win the championship.

What NASCAR hoped to do – and what it has tried to do for years – was devise an incentive formula that would motivate drivers to race harder to secure those high finishes.

I’m not sure the new system does that.

My main gripe is, as it has been in the past, with bonus points. A driver who wins the race gets three. That doesn’t seem like much incentive. It could be tempting to settle for a safe second rather than scramble and gamble for the win.

Even more, I don’t like awarding one bonus point for leading ONE lap and one bonus point for leading the MOST laps. Seems like a driver who battles to stay out front for, say, 300 laps, deservers more of a reward than the driver who leads only one lap – and maybe even that one under caution.

If NASCAR wants to add incentive to race hard and lead laps, it should award more points for doing so.

But at least the new system places a new premium on winning: a driver who might have a run of bad luck over the long course of the season can still make the championship Chase as a Wild Card entry. Two Wild Cards are awarded drivers outside the top 10 but with a win. (Or on points in the absence of wins.)

Under the new format a driver who has had a sour season and is well out of the Top 10 is still in

Jamie McMurray won the two biggest races of the 2010 season. In the 2011 season, that could get him into the Chase. (File photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

contention going into 26th and Chase-setting race. If he can win, he’s in.

Wins also are important for drivers who make the Chase by finishing in the Top 10 in “regular season” points. Each win is worth three bonus points to start the final 10-race playoff. Again, I think a victory should be worth more, but at least it’s equitable.

Some fans continue to complain about the Chase but they may as well cease and desist. That toothpaste left the tube a long time ago.

NASCAR realized that during its autumn stretch run it had to come up with some sort of system to maintain interest. With college football and the NFL kicking off, NASCAR could no longer tolerate a system that allowed a driver to build a fat championship points lead and cost through final races without breaking a sweat.

And don’t tell me it’s not “fair” to the driver who accumulates the most points after 26 races; he knows the rules when he kicks off the season. Every driver starts with the same number of points and runs the same number of races.

The Chase may not be perfect but it does what was intended: it keeps interest burning in the stretch run.

It also adds urgency to each race – and not just the final 10. Ask any driver when he rolls into Daytona for the season opener what his goal is. He’ll tell you it’s to make the Chase and contend for the championship.

Does that dampen the Daytona 500 in any way? Of course not. It makes NASCAR’s biggest race all the more important. It’s the first step toward the championship.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 16 2011
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  • Joe says:

    No, the toothpaste hasn’t left the tube. The fans are leaving the track.
    What NASCAR doesn’t get is that if you have had a bad year and are 10th or 12th or whatever in the points YOU DON’T DESERVE to contend for the championship.
    The new system is no different than any Chase format. It certainly doesn’t as you say “ensure the driver who consistently finishes the highest over the course of the season will probably win the championship.”

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