The Frontstretch: What If The Emphasis Really WAS On Winning? by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday September 17, 2009

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What If The Emphasis Really WAS On Winning?

Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday September 17, 2009


As we all know, the whole Chase was brought to us in 2004 as a result of a few key factors — chief among them the simplistic greed of Brian France. France wanted to go head-to-head with the NFL during the Fall months of the season. This grand illusion, I’m sure, was hatched long before he was the actual head of NASCAR… probably while he was sitting at his little desk next to his father’s big one. Remember, Brian France was brought up as a marketing man. He knows little about the actual sport over which he now presides … but a lot about how to make money.

So once Brian was allowed to move to the adult desk in the office, all he needed to conduct his experiments on the cash cow that had been handed to him was an “ideal situation.” Well, that “ideal situation” presented itself in the form of Matt Kenseth’s championship season of 2003.

We all remember the uproar that was created that season when Kenseth, who won only one race all year, bested Ryan Newman by a sizable margin despite Newman’s eight wins. As fans seemed appalled by the unjustness of it all, France seized the moment to implement his “playoff” plan, and told us that the newly formed “Chase” would not only help the sport to be more like traditional ones, but it would place an added emphasis on winning as well.

Back then (like now), I was of the mind that all the Chase did was complicate things that did not need complicating. If you wanted to make things closer at the end of the season and place an emphasis on winning, all you had to do was give the winner a good number of points more for a win than the first loser, right? Case in point is this excerpt that I wrote in March of 2004:

The Points System

This is an area that never needed any change. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) comes into play here.

Brought on by Matt Kenseth vs. Ryan Newman during 2003, many felt the system needed revising because Kenseth won only one race while Newman won eight, yet Kenseth was the champion. More emphasis needed to be placed on winning, some felt. I too felt this way at first, so, in my own simple way, I proposed giving the winner 20 more points than second place whilst leaving the rest of the system intact. Surely, I thought, Newman would be the victor.

Matt Kenseth’s lone victory en route to his 2003 Championship was the opportunity Brian France needed to change everything.

I (and you may never hear this again) was wrong! After doing the math, Kenseth still came out on top, 5,037 to 4,821. Further analysis of the stats revealed why. Matt had only five finishes of 20th or below, with only two of those being below 35th. Ryan had finished 20th or below 11 times, with seven of those being 35th or lower. Furthermore, while Newman’s average starting position was 6.6, his average finish was 13.9. Kenseth’s starting position averaged 21.3, with his finish averaging 10.2! Clearly, in my own egotistical mind, Matt was the better racer and was deserving of the trophy. It’s just that when Newman sucked, he REALLY sucked!

Of course, France refused the KISS principle and complicated things further by expanding the Chase to 12 and (again, to place more emphasis on winning) adding five whole points for a victory as opposed to holding back and taking second. Now, here we are in 2009 and, once again, we have a situation where a driver with multiple victories finds himself entirely out of the running for the Cup.

So in the spirit of that first article in 2004, I have once again run some experiments here in my lab and will present you with the results. Keep in mind that these experiments are run strictly under the KISS principle guidelines, and no animals were harmed during them. (except a few flies that were annoying the hell outta me!)

With the Chase system, the current standings as we head to New Hampshire are as follows:

1. Martin (5,040)
2. Stewart (5,030)
3. Johnson (5,030)
4. Hamlin (5,020)
5. Kahne (5,020)
6. Jeff Gordon (5,010)
7. Kurt Busch (5,010)
8. Vickers (5,010)
9. Edwards (5,000)
10. Newman (5,000)
11. Montoya (5,000)
12. Biffle (5,000)

One thing to note is that the drivers in positions nine through 12 have yet to win a race this year. Meanwhile, drivers that do have wins but no hope to win a Championship are: Kyle Busch (4), Matt Kenseth (2) and David Reutimann (1).

Now, let’s see how the top 12 positions would shake out employing the KISS principle and using the old points system. Let’s pretend the Chase does not exist, and you simply added 50 points more for a win. Here are the results, with points:

1. Stewart (3,956)
2. Johnson (3,684)
3. J. Gordon (3,677)
4. Hamlin (3,591)
5. Martin (3,491)
6. Kyle Busch (3,395)
7. Kahne (3,380)
8. Kurt Busch (3,372)
9. Edwards (3,280)
10. Newman (3,272)
11. Kenseth (3,265)
12. Vickers (3,253)

As you can see, Tony would still have a 200+ point lead, but imagine the swing that could take place should he have a bad day during the next 10 races and Jimmie does not! Dropping out of the top 12 are two of the non-winners… Biffle and Montoya.

OK, let’s take it a step further and give a win 100 extra points. Under that scenario, then your top 12 would be…

1. Stewart (4,106)
2. Johnson (3,834)
3. Gordon (3,727)
4. Martin (3,691)
5. Hamlin (3,691)
6. Kyle Busch (3,595)
7. Kahne (3,480)
8. Kurt Busch (3,472)
9. Kenseth (3,365)
10. Vickers (3,303)
11. Edwards (3,280)
12. Newman (3,272)

Outside Top 12: Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle (again)

Now, if you ask me, that last list is about the closest to reality of how those drivers have actually done all year. But remember, with 100 more points awarded for a win over second, the potential for even Ryan Newman to win a championship is still there under this system!

What does it all mean? Hell if I know! I do still believe, though, that things didn’t need to get so complicated and controversial in the first place.

If only Brian had gotten a KISS o’gram or something!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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09/17/2009 02:03 AM

One more time, talking about points based on the performance of the drivers through a Chase season. There is absolutely no room for comparison because the drivers do not race for wins, they drive for points. 26 cruises and test sessions followed by 10 sessions of “staying out of trouble”.
You can talk about the what if’s all day long but until a new system is put in place with true winning being the reward, there can be no debate.

Bill B
09/17/2009 07:20 AM

Once again, for anyone that thinks winning should be all that matters it gets really simple. You don’t need points at all. Just count wins.
I am not one of those that think winning should be all that matters in this sport but for those that do it doesn’t get any simpler.

09/17/2009 09:04 AM

The driver with the most wins should be the champion . How on Earth does any other system make sense ?
Boring races ? Not if the championship depends on winning , and only on winning . You would see some incredible racing on every lap of every race if winning was the only way a team could win the championship . You would also see the teams trying very hard during qualifying , a good starting position would be more important than ever .
The final standings at the end of the season should be calculated on best finishes alone , not points .

09/17/2009 10:05 AM

An interesting alternative would be if there were NO points awarded for finishes below a certain position. Say 10th, maybe 15th? Think they would race any harder? I wouldn’t object to points only for the top five!

P on U
09/17/2009 10:54 AM

The ‘chase’ sucks and so does Brian France!

Dans Mom
09/17/2009 10:58 AM

What if the cars ran the whole race in reverse?… These things are NEVER going to happen.

09/17/2009 11:21 AM

Sorry Jeff. You’re also using too much common sense and thinking there’e any chance that Nero France will listen to what fans are left. Good article though.

09/17/2009 12:41 PM

I continue to be amazed at how simple everyone wants the system to be while forgetting the system needs to take care of the overall program. The program awards extra money at the end of year for the top 25 drivers so wiping out the points system wipes out the extra cash these teams need to start the next year. Simply basing the champion on total wins doesn’t make sense – “Its good to see the champ won 10 races but finished 35th or worse at all 26 other tracks, but the 1st runner up won 9 and finished 2nd 20 times at the remaining 26 tracks – and who’s the better driver?? Perhaps the fans should talk to some drivers before they continously spout that today’s drivers are only driving for points. Here’s reality – some teams just want to finish (take a look at those beyond the top 35 and you’ll know who I’m referring to), others just want a top 20 because the last time they were at the track they finished 25th and they know they simply do not have the equipment to race for the win. Those in the top 10-15, they are racing to WIN, period. When the engines fire, each and every one of them believes they can win and will do anything they can to get in front. Second agenda item is to know who is directly infront of you in the points and finish better than that guy – so you can possibly move up in the ranks. Only when you come down to the final laps, when the leader has checked out by 5 seconds and you are in 5th position, do you finally settle for points. This is reality. If you don’t get the chance to talk to a driver, try listening to a scanner every once and a while.

09/17/2009 01:19 PM

why is everyone asking this question? becuase kyle didnt make it? he doesnt have the most wins becuase the year aint over, last year carl had more than anyone and jimmy won, nobody said a peep then?

Kevin in SoCal
09/17/2009 01:25 PM

Jeff said: “(except a few flies that were annoying the hell outta me!)”

I’d mention something about flies being attracted to BS, but you’re too nice a guy to make that comparison, Jeff. (grin)

Adding 50 more points for a win, awarding 5 points for leading a lap only under green flag, and the same points for finishes of 35th or lower, and I’d be fine with it.
Even better would be a separate points system for the 12 Chase drivers, but that would be rediculous.

don mei
09/17/2009 03:50 PM

Time and time again I have advocated an increase of 100 in the points awarded to the winner. Your research reinforces my strongly held opinion that this would give us the most realistic approach to results for the season. It will also cut WAY back on just racing “for points”. One doesnt have to be a rocket scientist to understand this! As a corollary, I would also limit points being awarded only to the first 12 finishers.

09/17/2009 04:00 PM




09/17/2009 04:20 PM

There needs to be a system to acknowledge everyone on the track. What do you want NASCAR to do with the pool of money at year end, only give it to the top 12 who obviously finished strong most of the year and as a result, dominated the purse money?? Now, I think the idea of bumping the winner bonus to 100 points is a great idea, to really push those running a race in the top 5 – 10 to do everything possible to go for the win. I also know of a proposal to cut the points award at the top 20 or 25 cars in each race, so that everyone below that mark gets the same no matter what position they finish outside the top 20. This forces two positive things: (1) it gets those running outside the Top 20 incentive to improve their program to run within the Top 20 (and hopefully once they’re at that level, they’ll be hungry for even more) but even more important, it will keep wrecked cars from coming back out just to score a position or two.

09/17/2009 04:33 PM

What I wouldn’t give to have seen Jr. in Kyle’s position after Richmond.

People would be protesting in front of Brian France’s home. And throwing empty beer cans.

09/17/2009 08:19 PM

Make it really simple.If you win a race you are in the chase and the more wins you have the fewer drivers you have to compete against. Don’t count any races that are rain shortened. Now what could be simpler than that and every driver would be running to be first every week.

09/17/2009 10:53 PM

I don’t believe it should be wins or nothing, I just think the points system should be such that it motivates the drivers to RACE. Winning should be the ultimate and rewarded by substantial points and let the rest fall where they may.


Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
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