The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Formula for Success? by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday March 26, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Formula for Success?

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday March 26, 2009

 

You’ve got to hand it to the powers that be that run Formula One — at least when they’re not consorting with hookers or doing their mad Rumplestiltskin on meth impersonations. They realize their brand of racing is in trouble. Skyrocketing budgets and technology has eclipsed driver skill and passing (well, they call it “overtaking” … those damn English have a different word for everything, which pisses me off… we let them steal our language). To combat the problem, several initiatives have been adopted to add some drama back to F1 racing — some of them so complex as to boggle this writer’s imagination. However, one of the easiest to understand is the new F1 points system introduced last week.

Under the new format, the driver who wins the most F1 races this year will be crowned champion. OK, that’s pretty damn simple, and the idea has its charms. In a perfect world, race car drivers strap into their cars with one goal in mind … to win the race. They do not climb into race cars looking for a consistent finish that will help solidify their points position, and they certainly don’t climb into race cars hoping to drive a few laps before retiring to the garage area citing “electrical problems” as an excuse while they head to the pay window to collect a big check. That’s not racing; that’s the AIG bonus program without mufflers.

But for the folks NASCAR is trying to draw to the sport (we’ll call them the uninitiated), instituting such an idea has certain charms. Let’s say you have a friend dipping his toes into NASCAR racing. He asks how a championship is decided, and you tell him that the driver who wins the most races wins the title. For fans of stick and ball sports, that makes sense. (Spare me the flak. Yes, I realize that in the modern era a football team that went 8-8 can win the Super Bowl over a team that was undefeated in the regular season. That’s why I don’t watch football anymore. Anyway… the team that wins each division is the team that won the most games, right?) So the new fan’s next question is, “OK, so which drivers have won races so far this season and how many races are left?” This is simple. Simple is good… take it from an aging simpleton.

Now, try explaining the current NASCAR points system to a potential new fan, even the part of the system that is in place prior to the Chase. Watch that guy’s eyes glaze over and his hand automatically start groping for the remote. Watch Rube Goldberg heading for the door, his shorts dampened with urine at the complexity and stupidity of it all.

I like simple; but simple has its limitations. While it’s always more satisfying to take a BFH (the first word is big and the last one is hammer… you figure out the rest) to a problem when working on cars, there are times a harmonic balancer puller or even an OBD II scanner is the appropriate tool to do the job. When it comes to motorcycles, I prefer big (big is simple) air cooled V-twins with kickstarters to electric start four cylinder, water-cooled Japanese science projects. But even I admit the fuel injection on my Nighty-Night Sporty is preferable to carbs and stalling out at every stop sign while the bike warms up. I just wish the damn thing had a kickstarter.

Jimmie Johnson may be the three-time defending champ, but under the F1 points system he’d have finished second fiddle to Carl Edwards in 2008. Edwards wound up with nine wins compared to Johnson’s eight, breaking the tie at Homestead in what would have been a nail-biting battle to the wire for the title.

To adopt such a simple championship approach to NASCAR racing would also ignore the fundamental differences between Cup and F1. Cup racing is still a knuckle-dragging anachronism compared to F1. Our cars still have carbs, overhead valves, 15-inch rims, and manually operated Hurst shifters (Can I get a Hallelujah, brothers and sisters?) In comparison, Formula One has become such a technical tour de farce that they make George Jetson’s car look like a Tin Lizzy. F1 is an incredibly expensive form of motorsport, to the point Jack Roush could drop his entire operating budget out of his back pocket and most F1 team bosses wouldn’t bother to lean over and pick it up.

Secondly, there are only 22 cars that compete annually in the F1 series. (This year, it might only be 20 with Honda having taken their ball and glove and gone home.) There are ten (nine?) teams with two drivers each. In a good year, two of those two teams will actually compete for wins. In a great year, there might be three competitive teams on the circuit. Most years, one team just flat out dominates to the point you have to ask why the other teams lack the testicular gumption to just stop showing up at all rather than have their asses handed to them on a biweekly basis. In 2004, Michael Schumacher won all but five races all season. Not even Jeff Gordon in 1998 approached that sort of domination. Since 1999, Ferrari has lost just two manufacturer’s titles, while McLaren and Williams have enjoyed similar dominating streaks in their day. At some level, the F1 folks are simply admitting that two or three drivers are going to win almost all this season’s races, and they might as well try to spice things up some with some intra-squad rivalries. For comparison’s sake, there are three dominant teams in NASCAR right now, and perhaps three or four more organizations that have a realistic chance at winning some races this season.

The F1 season is also only 17 races long, starting in Australia this weekend and concluding in Abu Dhabi the first day of November. If they were to impose a ten race “Chase Format,” it would involve more than half of their season. In contrast, the Cup schedule includes 36 points paying races, as well as four increasingly nonsensical non-points paying events. Somehow, NASCAR needs to at least hype each race as something important, and not 26 races leading up to the final ten when drivers actually start racing. Yeah, good luck with that anyway.

So, because of the length of our season and the number of drivers with some shot to win events, the “Most Wins” format in its purest form won’t work in NASCAR. But that’s not to say we can’t take something from our European friends’ experiment that might spice up the action here and have our drivers actually up on the wheel and running for wins — not cruising for points at places like Fontana and Michigan that have become NASCAR’s equivalent to a spirited game of lawn croquet.

First and foremost, a race win should bring a points bonus over finishing second that makes racing for that win, even at the risk of wrecking, a worthwhile gamble. I’m thinking a minimum of 500 points over second, while a one point bonus for each lap led should discourage drivers in the lead from politely pulling over and letting the second place driver take his turn at the front. With 500 laps on the line and a potential 500-point bonus, I think that might spice things up a bit at tracks like Bristol again. Of course, a win would have to pay 1,000 points, second 500 points etc. to keep lap leader bonuses from being more important than winning. Like our friend Knute used to say, “Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.”

Secondly, I feel a race win, any race win, ought to guarantee a driver a spot in the Chase if we truly are saddled with the current disingenuous method of determining a title. You win a race, whether it’s Martinsville or Daytona, you’re in the big show. Some will object that a team might win a race, finish lousy in the other 25 events, and still make the Chase. If that’s the case, then that team will implode during the playoffs, right? The only qualification would be the team gaining entry to the Chase must qualify for every Cup event with the same driver, so as to exclude teams using such chicanery as hiring a road course ace for Sonoma or the Glen to gain entry to the playoffs. I want to see drivers outside the top 12 running their guts out and rubbing fenders to make the Chase in the final weeks of the season. Again, nothing is more important than winning; and if you don’t think so, you don’t belong at the wheel of a race car… you deserve to be the lead guest on Dr. Phil.

As a codicil to the above, no driver who has failed to win a race in the first 26 events should make the playoffs, even if he finished second 26 times. Consistency is good in bowel movements and matrimony… but it sucks in racing. If you finished second 26 times and never found a way to get up on the wheel and win even one of those races, I’ve got a lovely parting gift for you… and it’s not a spot in the Chase.

I will admit our F1 brethren have had one thing right for a number of years. Over there, only the first through eighth place drivers earn any points at all in an event. Again, our fields are much larger, so in this new NASCAR system we’ll pay points all the way back to 16th. 1,000 points for a win, 500 for second, 300 for third, all the way back to 10 points for 16th. Everyone else… thanks for playing. Yeah, some teams are never going to score a point. That’s too bad. If a driver is running second and decides to make a “no guts, no glory” pass for the lead that might end up with him wrecked out of the race, he should know that all the other title contenders are going to suffer through a few “no points” finishes. And now that finishing 17th is no better than finishing 30th, this will help get cars running on six cylinders and patched together wreck-refugees off the track and out of the way of the leaders. You just didn’t bring your A-game to the track this weekend, so get the Hell out the way, Chumpy.

No, I don’t think that the “Most Wins” system in F1 would work for the Cup Series, even as Brian France tries to find a way to pawn off his fleets of ungainly and unraceable fleet of Car of Tomorrow disasters to Third World countries as taxicabs to stop the bleeding. To adopt such a system in NASCAR would be ridiculous. But the only thing that would be even worse is to continue using our current points structure to determine a Cup champion.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Bill Ledbetter
03/26/2009 03:35 AM
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Finally a Chase format that makes sense! That surely means no one at NASCAR will even give the idea a second thought. Most folks who used to watch don’t anymore because the point system is confusing and the drivers are just driving for the Chase.

Paul F.
03/26/2009 04:55 AM
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I still like the system where it goes 185-180-etc. where if you ran second but led the most you got as many points as the leader. I like consistency. I think it’s harder to finish 2nd 26 times than to win once. And it’s not like you can finish 2nd without being “up on the wheel”. You can’t even finish 10th without doing a great job(excluding surviving a “big one”…).

As much as I hate playoffs of any kind, if we absolutely HAVE to have them, then I do think this system works well. It would be entertaining, and playoffs sacrifice competitive purity for entertainment anyway so might as well run with it.

Gordon81Wins
03/26/2009 07:17 AM
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I would like for NASCAR to just quit mucking with the points system, get rid of the Chase, and let the guy with the most points at the end of 36 races be the champion. The points system is far from being NASCAR’s biggest problem right now.

Douglas
03/26/2009 07:29 AM
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MMMMMM, not sure that these are the F-1 rules, i.e., most wins, etc.

The F-1 Teams have not voted on this rule, and as of the 17th March, 2009, this “rule” has been “postponed” until 2010, maybe!

Seems that the FIA announced this rule BEFORE ever telling the teams, who must vote on such changes and agree this is what they, the Teams want!

Confusing at best!

BUT! No matter what, the NA$CRAP points systems SUCK!

It takes THREE (3) DIFFERENT POINTS SYSTEMS IN NA$CRAP TO DETERMINE A “CHUMPION”!

1. THE TOP 35 FOR THE FIRST 5 RACES.

2. THE TOP 35 POINTS UNTIL THECHASE

3. THEN THENEWPOINTS STANDINGS WHEN THECHASESTARTS

How sick is that?

If NA$CRAP “rewarded” wins, ala the F-1 proposal, would they then have to count the previous years wins also as that is the “point system” they, NA$CRAP use in the first five (5) races of the following year?

Bill B
03/26/2009 07:35 AM
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So a guy that runs 2nd in 26 races doesn’t make the Chase and a guy that lucks out and wins a fuel milage race while finishing outside the top 20 in the other 25 races gets in. Sorry, I just can’t buy into that system. It’s not fair to the drivers, teams, sponsors or fans.

Just go back to the way it was before the chase and give the winner of each race 25 (or more) additional points per win.

Mike
03/26/2009 08:53 AM
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You could argue that drag racing rewards the person who wins the most – except that its rounds, not necessarily race wins. You don’t go rounds, you don’t earn points. Pretty simple. Plus, there’s no guaranteed starting spots for top point earners. Fastest 16 qualifiers are in, all others go home. In light of what’s been going on in NASCAR the last few years, the simplicity has its charm…

Rick
03/26/2009 10:14 AM
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Mike McLaughlin mentioned in his Monday article that Travis Kvapil showed signs of brilliance in Sunday’s Bristol race. He also stated that it was time for Michael Waltrip to step out of his driving role & devote his full attention to ownership. I happen to fully agree. Mike, why don’t you call Mikey and convince him how good Travis would look in the 55 car. Travis is a good driver (a proven winner in competitive equipment) & Waltrip’s program, with the exception of the 55 team has really improved this season. This could be a great match.

itsborken
03/26/2009 10:51 AM
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I like it, especially if it gets rid of the top 35 issues. Fastest cars race period when everybody 25 below (hypothetically) has zero points.

Jerry
03/26/2009 11:18 AM
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The chase could be modified enough to force the drivers go for the win rather than just ride around for a consistent finish.
This is my proposal. The 12 drivers in the chase have their own point system which would mean they compete directly only against each other. For example a chase driver, falls out and finishes 43rd. He collects 12th place “chase” points. This would greatly reduce the amount of drivers mathematically eliminated from contention as the chase progressed.
Give the winner in a chase event 100 “chase” points, second place 75 points and third place 60 points. Fourth place gets 50 points with a 5 point drop-off thereafter. If we ever want the competitive spirit to return, NASCAR must change its mentality in order to win the championship that you must consistently finish up front or you can just consistently finish which will mean you will consistently lose.

Matt, I totally agree that a driver who wins an event should qualify for the chase. The media plays up the story line to win the Daytona 500 as one the greatest achievement a driver can accomplish. Yet it was not good enough to qualify Ryan Newman last year for the chase.

MJR in VA
03/26/2009 01:13 PM
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Guys the one thing everyone is forgetting here is NA$CAR doesn’t care about racing! They care about putting on a show and making money!! Thus they really don’t care how the points system works outside of having their top “pitch and pretty face” boys on top at the end of their 36 week long “SHOW!!!” They threw out racing years ago!!!!!

HenryM
03/26/2009 01:28 PM
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It has always bothered me that, other than the Daytona 500 & Brickyard 400, you never hear a driver say “I want to win this race”.
The one thing that I hate about the Chase is that all races should count the same, Bristol no longer counts as much.
I would like to see 200, 175, 155, 140, 130, 125 & then 5 per place down to 10 for making the race & 5 for posting a qualifying speed. No speed, no points.

Bobb
03/26/2009 03:24 PM
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FOTA approved the “winner take all” format for 2009?

News to me!

Just because Ecclestone wanted the “winner take all” format, and the media forgot the FIA sporting regulations (requiring FOTA approval), doesn’t mean Formula One is abandoning their established points structure.

Keith
03/26/2009 10:42 PM
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All king Brian had to do was give the winner 250 points and keep the rest the way it was and he would be called a genius. If were stuck with the chase you should finish in the top 10 in points and win a race. No win or being in the top 10 no chase.Also the point scale should change if you don’t finish on the lead lap it should be a 25 point deduction across the board for each team not finishing on the lead lap for each race.