The Frontstretch: NASCAR Keeps The Chase? It Means The Rest Is Smoke And Mirrors by Amy Henderson -- Thursday January 27, 2011

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NASCAR Keeps The Chase? It Means The Rest Is Smoke And Mirrors

Amy Henderson · Thursday January 27, 2011


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For, oh, half a second there, I really thought NASCAR had finally figured it out. Perhaps this one was finally the year when the sanctioning body would realize what folly they had created over the last half-decade, making amends for a long list of grievances from fans, competitors, and media alike. With a revamped points system, NASCAR had a real shot at giving everyone something to care about on Sundays again. But, alas, the powers that be never got their heads far enough out of the sand to see what the real problem was, and as a result, applied another band-aid on a gaping wound hoping only to staunch the bleeding and not to heal the ugly gash underneath.

This time, NASCAR came so close to getting it right. At first glance, the 43-1 points system has gobs of potential, in position to create excitement from the green flag at Daytona until the checkers at Homestead all by itself.

While the two series are vastly different, consider the IndyCar Series, which runs a system similar to the new NASCAR tally. That series has two things going for it: a close championship battle nearly every year without any gimmicks, and drivers who race for the win every single week.

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick’s strategy would have changed slightly under the new point system last Chase – but is that enough to satisfy fans hankering for major changes?

I’ve heard a lot of talk about how this new system promotes consistency over winning, but that’s not entirely the case. And in a 36-race season, consistently being one of the best on the racetrack should be rewarded heavily in any case. And this new system had potential to force drivers’ hands. Take Homestead, for example. Jimmie Johnson went in trailing Denny Hamlin by 15 points. Under the old system, Johnson had to beat Hamlin by at most, five spots if bonus points were equal. To the disgust of many fans, Johnson did so easily as Hamlin struggled.

Under the new system, he’d have had to beat Hamlin by fifteen on track spots, and – barring a major disaster – that’s unlikely to happen. Over the course of an entire season, the precious nature of each and every point would force drivers to race hard, meaning the only way to again any ground at all is to beat the next guy by as many spots as possible. A single DNF would be a disaster if the team couldn’t rebound for wins. Running fifth each week, a virtual guarantee of season-long success in the past, would be meaningless if the competition was winning and would form a huge deficit very, very fast. The only way to gain any margin is to beat the competition by several positions.

The problem with the system is the same as the problem with the old: the Chase. NASCAR’s playoff, while encouraging a handful of drivers to race for wins over ten races, encourages the same drivers to stroke all summer if they’re well ahead of the competition. This new, closer system doesn’t need the manufactured fakery of the Chase – it would provide a close finish on its own.

I will say this much: I think many casual fans have the wrong idea of what racing for a win means. I guarantee that drivers with cars capable of winning are, indeed, racing for the victory every week. But in a 500-mile race, racing for the win does not mean 500 miles of balls-to-the-wall, non-stop action where you’re pushing the car on the edge of control. It never really has. Instead, the strategy for the smartest, best drivers is saving the equipment, letting the track come to you, keeping everything in one piece while putting yourself in the position to win. Racing flat out for 500 miles causes equipment failure; it causes driver error and mistakes that cost far more than finishing fifth. No point system is going to change that, because fifth-place money is always going to be better than 40th. Expecting them to race like it’s the last lap for every lap, every week isn’t realistic.

To give credit where it’s due, the new seeding system for the Chase is at least a little better as it will require winning, at least for 11th and 12th spot. Far too many drivers made the Chase without winning at all in 2010, while a three-time winner didn’t make it, period. That’s a good move, making the regular season still meaningful, but the fact still remains any type of postseason really isn’t needed at all.

It never has been.

On the other hand, the new procedure for setting the field if qualifying is rained out is nothing but dangerous. As much as I hate the top-35 rule that lets racers get by on past achievement, I can’t see this not asking for real trouble. Practice is for shaking down a car, finding the handle and speed and learning how far it can be pushed without crossing the line. This system forces teams to go for qualifying speed possibly before the car and driver are ready for that. It will cause backmarker drivers to drive over their heads, extra risk which forms a recipe for torn-up racecars and bruised drivers – all the while doing nothing to improve the actual race on Sunday.

With all its changes, NASCAR came within a hair’s breadth of making the system about racing for every position, every week. But in the end it once again fell short, placing the staged mockery of the Chase over pure racing. They made early practice sessions more dangerous for no good reason in the process, and in the end, little will likely change.

It could have been so right… and for a moment, it almost was.

Congratulations to our Amy Henderson, winning a second place award among daily / internet columnists in the 2011 NMPA Awards held this past weekend in Charlotte!

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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phil h
01/27/2011 02:12 AM

ah Nascar…alas,you still don’t get it!!you can do a thousand different points scenarios! what good are they,if you still have to “”“reset the points”“” for this ludicrous thing called “The Chase”!!

Here we go again,another rehash of Brian France mucking up what his father and granddad made great. What a moron!

01/27/2011 07:47 AM

This points system actually decreases the incentive to win, and increases the need to be consistent. And what was Brian France’s justification? He said that the fan’s had told them that WINNING was the most important factor of all!!!

Nevermind the fact that DUMPING THE CHASE is what most fans want “most of all”.

Oh yeah, congrat’s Amy on the NMPA award.

Doug in Washington (State)
01/27/2011 09:33 AM

I was a little worried about using the practice speeds to set the field in case of rain, but for the cars outside the T35 it still won’t matter, because the practice speeds only set WHERE they will start, not IF they will start. The rainout starting eligibility it still 1: T35 2: Current/prior season race winners (driver) 3: Current/prior season race winners (owner) 4: Past champions 5: Number of attempts, with ties broken by points.

So, if it’s race 14 that gets qualifying rained out, and you have a rookie driver with 2 attempts, and 45 cars made all 13 prior attempts, they won’t get in no matter how fast they practice.

The guys that are going to “go for it” in practice are the guys who want to start up front. The backmarkers with guaranteed spots in a rainout don’t care where they start, since they are likely going to either ride in the back all day (FRM) or park it before the first pit stops.

Where the rainout procedure will get really weird is at the Plate tracks, because drafting speeds are so much higher than qualifying speeds so the cars that would get up front would be the ones that practice draft runs instead of qualifying runs.

01/27/2011 09:43 AM

I consider this a minor victory, considering the “elimination” Chase being thrown out in the fall. I think we are stuck with the Chase until the ESPN deal runs out in 2014. Bruton Smith seemed to hint at this earlier in the week. On the new qualifying procedure, my concern is what happens at a track where going out late is a disadvantage? Will a team sandbag their mock qual run to get an early slot? I don’t think it’s dangerous since non-top 35 teams spend the whole session in qual trim anyway. This system is actually better for them because the chance will be less likely that fast cars will be sent home because qualifying got rained out (especially at the road courses).

01/27/2011 10:35 AM

You are right, NASCAR had a chance to make things right. In all the years that I’ve been following racing, I’ve never once heard anyone complain that the points were too difficult to follow. Want to know how you’re driver is doing during the race? The driver highlighted in yellow during the broadcast as the ticker passes by is on the outside looking in. Highlighted in green? He’s in! Broadcasters actually do a good job in this regard, and as long as the points are flashed on the screen after the race, I’m a happy man. If NASCAR really wanted to do something for the fans, the new point system would look as follows:
1st – 100
2nd – 90
3rd – 81
4th – 73
5th – 66
6th – 60
7th – 55
8th – 51
9th – 48
10th – 46
11th – 45…
30th – 26
31st-43rd – 25

5 Bonus points for leading at each 20%, 40%, 50%, 60% & 80% lap completion.
5 Bonus points for leading the most laps
5 Bonus points for sitting on the pole
No cars are locked in to the top 35
Every race is impound
Fastest 43 cars qualify

With this method of scoring, it keeps competition up throughout the entire race with competitors trying to get to the front to lead at each %lap complete interval (5points) and it rewards running at the front (most laps 5 points) & it rewards improving your position (points pay more and more per position the closer you get to the lead) & it ensures that the best race cars make the race (Impound & fastest 43).
Finishing 31 – 43rd pays 25 points which is 16.1% of the winners points, with no incentive to return a wrecked car to the race track.

“…But in a 500-mile race, racing for the win does not mean 500 miles of balls-to-the-wall, non-stop action where you’re pushing the car on the edge of control. It never really has.”

But it should, and if NASCAR did the points system right, it WOULD!

01/27/2011 11:03 AM

I did some figuring on the past decade to see how the chase revamp(11th and 12th) would shake out. It’s interesting to see just how it would have changed things. You can skip my ranting drivel at the top and cut right to the stats towards the bottom.

New chase system hardly addresses consistancy, and wins are deceptive.

01/27/2011 11:47 AM

chase format changes applied to past decade

edit to make it an actual link. Copy/paste is for the non-lazy!

01/27/2011 11:48 AM

A win now earns the driver 43 points + 3 BONUS points!? That’s like saying a touchdown gives you 4 points + 2 bonus points. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Tom Dalfonzo
01/27/2011 12:08 PM

It must be very hard to just throw away the points entirely and give the title to the driver that wins the most races every season. As Al Davis said: “Just Win, Baby!!”

How does this sound: A driver will receive $1,000 for every lap he can lead. If a driver leads the most laps, they will receive a special Laps Leader Award.

That is all that has to be done. Drivers would be on the wheel, fighting tooth and nail for every victory, every race, all season long.

One more thing. The fans want Brian France out of NASCAR more than anything else.

Doug (wis)
01/27/2011 12:53 PM

Good-bye NASCAR…come on Brutin Smith, now may be the time to start your own racing series.

Don Mei
01/27/2011 01:05 PM

Two comments. first, the new simplified points system was designed so Brain (sic) France would be able to understand it . Second , let me repeat my comments from yesterday vis-a-vis the new system;The proposed NASCAR points system is completely absurd. It would award second place with 97.6% of the points the winner gets. Tenth would get 79% . That system sure encourages people to go for the win, doesnt it? Might as well put cruise control on the cars. Almost every other Professional racing organization rewards first place to a much greater extent.Second place in Formula 1, Indycar and Motogp all get 80% of the points the winner gets. Tenth place gets 10% in Formula 1, 40% in Indycar and 24% in Motogp. Its going to add to the boredom that NASCAR has become because no one is going to knock himself out to gain 2.3% more points. Are these people stupid or do they just think we are?

01/27/2011 01:50 PM

What happens if three drivers with no wins make the chase and there are four drivers with one win each and only two spots available?

For the rainouts, go back to the old way of using the postmark from the entry confirmation.

Don Mei
01/27/2011 02:26 PM

Excuse me Amy, but did you really mean this; “While the two series are vastly different, consider the IndyCar Series, which runs a system similar to the new NASCAR tally. That series has two things going for it: a close championship battle nearly every year without any gimmicks, and drivers who race for the win every single week.”

Unless indy car has drastically changed their point system, you are ccompletely off base. First gets 50 points, second 40, third 35 in decreasing increments down to 20 points for tenth and then a further declining all the way down to a single point.Its nowhere near the system that NASCAR uses…its actually intelligent and well thought out..

Doug in Washington (State)
01/27/2011 02:33 PM

Craig, it doesn’t help the non- T35 folks at all. In the case of a qualifying rainout, they still get in based on the “old criteria”. A car 52nd in points and fewer attempt but tops on the practice speeds would still go home unless they had a past champ in the seat, or the driver or owner had won a race in the current/past season. It’s actually somewhat worse, as now the ones who attempt but don’t qualify (even if they are faster than T35 teams) get no points, same as part-time teams who don’t even show up, though “Attempts are tracked” for rainout purposes.

So, who gets in on a rainout doesn’t change, but the starting order does.

DoninAjax, any ties in number of wins is broken by points, for pos 11 and 12.

01/27/2011 03:11 PM

As long as they reset the points for the Chase it is still a farce.

Kevin in SoCal
01/27/2011 03:51 PM

I’m just happy they used the “wild card – win and you’re in” system for 11th and 12th place drivers, as I said many times last season. Thank you Joshua for the explanation and further info.
Secondly, Hamlin wouldnt have been leading Johnson by 15 points going in Homestead if we had this points system in place last year. Amy, your comparison is flawed.

01/27/2011 08:08 PM

Jr. should be spotted 500 points at the start of the season.
Maybe then our most popular ‘driver’ will make the ‘Chase’

01/27/2011 10:59 PM

As some of the drivers were beginning to allude to, this evening, the points for winning aren’t that much different from last year, but having a bad day is going to mean so much more. How is that going to make drivers want to go “balls to the walls”?

01/28/2011 09:01 AM

I correct myself on qualifying. I thought who gets in could be determined by practice speed, apparently not (I blame SPEED for that). A mistake then not to create something to at least give go-or-go home guys a chance to qualify later if it rains. Overall, I still find these changes to be positive if not perfect. The will does get a nice bonus now, but hopefully the Chase will go bye bye in 2014.

Bad Wolf
01/29/2011 09:03 PM

This change will not get me back in front of the TV each week.

I hope you all caught the “Bob and Tom” show the day after this was announced. They nailed it.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.