Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Points System? Really?

Talk of the NASCAR town over the past week, even in the middle of preseason testing at Daytona, was that the governing body is considering a major overhaul of the points system -- the first time NASCAR would do such a thing since 1974.

Under the proposed system, a race winner would receive 43 points, decreasing in one-point increments all the way down to 43rd place, which would receive one point. NASCAR is also considering changing the Chase to where the top 10 drivers in points would qualify, with the other two spots going to the two drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins.

Just call it the Jamie McMurray Rule.

Honestly, I love the Chase idea; returning to 10 guaranteed spots, with the two wild card positions, is a smart move. McMurray missing the Chase last season after winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 felt odd. The move puts further emphasis on winning races, which is good, because the other proposed change doesn't.

Granted, nothing's been mentioned of bonus points -- we don't know what NASCAR will do for drivers who lead a lap or lead the most laps. Maybe there'll be a point bonus for winning the pole. Maybe the driver who wins the race will get the 43 points and a three-point bonus. If NASCAR finds a way to widen the gap between first and second to more than a measly point, then great.

If not, then consistency outweighs winning ... and the fans suffer.

We'll know more in the coming week, when NASCAR announces any changes to the Chase and/or points system. So I'll have more to say about the particulars of the point system once the changes have been officially announced.

But for everything the fans have complained about over the last few years -- the schedule, the Chase, the COT, Jimmie Johnson winning five straight titles -- I've never once heard the fans complain that the points system was confusing.

While you may not have been able to recall from memory how many points you get for finishing 14th, the basics were simple: lead a lap, get five points. Lead the most laps, get five more points. First place gets 15 more points than second place, before bonus points are considered. A regular-season win nets a driver 10 bonus points for Chase seeding.

See? Simple.

I understand NASCAR wants to make the product more accessible to the casual fan and simultaneously find a way to court a younger demographic. But is revamping a decades-old point system really the way to go?

NASCAR has done a lot of things right in recent years: between double-file restarts, green-white-checkered finishes and the return of the rear spoiler, last season was one of the best in recent memory. The sport also had some momentum coming into 2011, with the revamped front splitter and a new rule that will keep a full-time Cup driver from winning the Nationwide Series title for the first time since 2005.

Why revamp the point system? Why wait until less than a month before the season starts to do it?

If NASCAR finds a way for the 43-to-1 system to reward consistency and winning, then the system has a chance to work. But without a way to further reward winning, the result could be conservative racing.

And I'm still not convinced the point system needed the overhaul.