The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Erasing The Chase by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday September 24, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Erasing The Chase

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday September 24, 2009


I can only state the repugnance I feel for the Chase so many times without getting repetitive. (For those of you just tuning in or unsure of what “repugnance” means, I don’t like it. I don’t like it a whole lot.) But more than once I’ve been told, “OK, smart guy, if you think the Chase sucks, what’s your solution? If the Chase is bad, so were seasons when an eventual champion ran away with the points lead with 10 races left to run. Offer some constructive criticism rather than just destructive drivel.”

So, I’ve pondered the matter for a number of years. I’ve developed points systems and tried them out on current and past seasons to see if they work as I intended them to. I’ve studied the F1 points system, the IndyCar Series points system, and everything short of drawing numbers out of a hat. I’ve puzzled until my puzzler is sore. And I think I finally have a points system that, even if I’m not entirely happy with, will be my basis for tweaking going forward so I’m ready for that grand day when I am appointed Grand Puba of NASCAR and Brian France is demoted to Vice President of Reconciling Petty Cash and Ordering Sandwiches for Lunch.

Now, every points system has to have an underlying reason for its existence. The classic Latford system was designed (on the back of a cocktail napkin by most accounts) to give teams incentive to run every event in the era where factory support of racing was ending, teams were running only the events with larger purses, and Winston was still getting its feet wet in the sport. The Chase was designed because of some wrongheaded notion that, with the advent of the new TV deal, NASCAR needed something to keep folks’ attention glued to stock car racing when the NFL season started. This is like the notion of an average guy in college embarking on a high-profile binge of drinking too much, snorting coke, staying out too late, and wrecking cars in hopes that one day Lindsay Lohan will ask him out. It’s never going to happen. With that said, my points system is intended to make every race equally important, reintroduce hard racing at the front of the pack rather than points racing, and to first stop then reverse the erosion of interest among longtime stock car racing fans turned off by the Chase and the New Car.

My points system is like its author…simple. The winner of each race gets 500 points. 500 is a magic number in stock car racing. It’s simple and easy to remember. The second place finisher gets 200 points. Yeah, winning has its rewards. The third place finisher gets 100 points. The fourth place finisher gets 50 points. Fifth place earns 40 points and so on, in decreasing 10 point increments down to eighth place which pays 10 points. Finish ninth or worse? Well, thanks for playing—we have some lovely consolation gifts for you as well as zero points. Zero points to the ninth place finisher. Zero points to the 43rd place start and parker. Nobody remembers who finished ninth. That takes some of the sting out of a DNF caused by a driver going both guns blazing for a win that wrecks or blows, and it reduces the rewards for cruising. It also eliminates any incentive for a team with a badly damaged car to repair it and return the car to action only to get in the way of the leaders for points. Some folks still say consistency beats occasional brilliance, so my system still gives a nice reward for a top 5 finish and even just missing a top 5.

Everyone who has read a Matt McLaughlin column knows of the repugnance he feels for the Chase, but instead of just complaining about it, he has offered up an alternative.

What would the points look like right now under my system? I did the calculations for the drivers in this year’s Chase and the two drivers who just missed the cut, Kyle Busch who won four races and Matt Kenseth who won two. Here’s what I came up with. Keep in mind, as always, given a different points structure drivers and teams might have strategized differently…

Editor’s Note: These totals do not include Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, just the 26 “regular season” races prior to the Chase.

Driver Points Wins
Tony Stewart 2790 3
Mark Martin 2630 4
Jimmie Johnson 2340 3
Kyle Busch 2240 4
Jeff Gordon 2050 1
Denny Hamlin 1810 2
Kasey Kahne 1270 2
Kurt Busch 1110 1
Matt Kenseth 1100 2
Brian Vickers 750 1
Carl Edwards 640 0
Ryan Newman 560 0
Greg Biffle 520 0
Juan Pablo Montoya 430 0

Note that under my points system, any one of the top 3 drivers could leave NHIS with the points lead, and that’s without resetting the points after Richmond. Hypothetically, Kyle Busch could have left New Hampshire just 40 points behind Stewart if Busch were to win the race and Stewart were to finish the race ninth or worse. Under the traditional points system, folks always calculated that anyone with 161 points of the lead could take over the top spot. Of course, that involved the Chaser winning the race and leading the most laps while the points leader would have to finish last without leading a lap. That happens occasionally, but the guy leading the points didn’t get there by wrecking out on the first lap of a race a whole lot. Yet under my system, the full 500-point swing would occur if the Chaser won the race and the points leader finished ninth or worse, a scenario that is 35 times more likely to occur. With 10 races left and a potential 5,000 point swing in the standings, even Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his very own popular self, would still have a dog in the fight.

Let’s look at the implications in the final laps of a race. The driver who is second in the points by 150 points is running second, while the points leader is leading the race as well. To that driver running second, there’s a potential 600 points in the balance. If the points leader wins, Mr. Second Place loses another 300 points. But if the runner up can somehow make that pass, he gains 300 points instead and takes over the point lead. Or maybe the guy leading the race will drop a few more spots after burning off his tires and the points advantage will be even greater. Worst case scenario (evil grin inserted here), if I lose it on a banzai pass attempt and take out the leader as well, I’m no worse off than I was prior to the race.

Likewise, there’s enough of a points advantage between third and sixth to ensure some spirited racing towards the front of the pack, even if someone is running away unassailably with the race as sometimes happens.

My guess is given my points system, from the drop of the green flag of the first race of the season the teams and drivers capable of winning would be going all out to do so to collect those 500 points, knowing they might come in handy down the stretch. No more cruising for points and top 10 finishes to get into the Chase. Stand on it, baby, just stand on it. Make sure those fans at home need fireplace tongs to get the cushion out of their butt crack after the way they puckered up down there watching the final 10 laps. That’s what we all really want to see, the best drivers in the sport gunning all out for the race win each week, with gentlemanly conduct damned to the lawn croquet tournament.

I’ve toyed with other ideas within my points system, including awarding double points for the Daytona 500 (the first race of the season), Darlington (the oldest race), the World 600 (the longest race) and the season finale wherever it is held just to throw an Ozark into the final points standings. A potential 1,000 point swing in the standings? I’m not adverse to the idea. I’m just averse to doing any more math to see how it would play out this season.

Under my system, there would be two big winners. Kyle Busch would move from “out of the chase” to fourth in the standings. And fans both at the track and at home watching would see each and every race, just not the final 10, as a unique and important event into itself, a key stepping off point to a title.

Under my system, consistency would have its rewards though winning would be the most important thing. Every race would matter, and there’d be no silly resetting of the points and seeding after the 26th race. I guarantee there’d be more hard racing up front throughout the year, sparing the annual ritual of drivers already in Chase contention cruising conservatively to maintain their advantage which made this summer such a bummer. I leave it to you, gentle readers, to poke holes in my system the way an iceberg punched a hole in the Titanic below the waterline. But if my system is imperfect, it simply can not be any worse than the Rube Goldberg complicated joke that is the Chase.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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09/24/2009 03:41 AM

I would take almost any points system that DID NOT reset the points. Why not start only 36 cars(to get rid of start and parks) and give ALL the money that 37-43 are getting now to the winner.
These drivers race the whole field everyweek, not just one other team. no need to reset points.

It is only a matter a time before you start to see drivers, who are locked into the chase,take races off to get rested up, then it really will be like the other sports.If you remember Jeff Gordan talked about taking off for the birth of his baby girl a couple years back, this would not happen under a point system that did not reset itself.

09/24/2009 06:40 AM

At first I thought this system was strange, but thinking about it I kinda like it. The only problem is that you wouldn’t have full fields, if there’s no chance at any points a lot of teams won’t even bother.

I agree with wcfan though, I’d be happy to see the field size reduced anyhow.

Dans Mom
09/24/2009 07:33 AM

The implementation of this points system is about as unrealistic as Lindsey Lohan running in NASCAR. Might make a horrible movie, but lets face reality – and write about stuff that matters.

And WHY would anyone put Brian France in charge of ordering sandwiches? I’m a firm believer in lunch and would hate to have the “sandwich of tommorow” everyday. God knows if my actions were detrimental to sandwich ordering procedures, I’d be docked 25 mustard packets ad nauseum. That’s 5 weeks of bland – cookie cutter style subs!!

Dans Mom
09/24/2009 07:48 AM

Fans at home on the couch complain about lack of coverage of drivers not racing out front. Drivers a lap or two down have almost no incentive to race under this system – therefore, why would networks even be tempted to mention them.

Also, what about the franchising top 35 rule? Through 5 races you may not even have 20 cars that have earned points.

Bill B
09/24/2009 08:04 AM

Interesting but I think you hit on a major flaw when you said “if I lose it on a banzai pass attempt and take out the leader as well, I’m no worse off than I was prior to the race.” I think the huge points swing would promote an even more WWF atmosphere. While I think winning should get more points I’m not sure it should warrant that big of a swing. I also agree that cutting points off at a certain spot would be a good idea but I’m not sure about everyone finishing below 8th getting zero points.
On the other hand I agree with wcfan that I would welcome any system that didn’t involve resetting the points. It’s all arbitrary anyway. I still think there would be years where the championship would be decided (realistically maybe not mathematically) well before the final race. Yes Jr could still win it mathematically but what the chances of him winning 6 races in the final 10 if he hasn’t won a race all year. So in my opinion your points system provides a mathematical illusion that a lot of guys are still in it but in reality not really.

09/24/2009 08:28 AM

I like it. If you notice, the top 12 under Matt’s plan have the driver’s with no wins at the bottom the way it should be. Another good thing it would do is pretty much guarantee that the eventual Champion would have to have at least a couple wins. With the current system, there’s a lot better chance for a driver with NO wins winning the championship. (I kind of hope this happens so NASCAR will have a ton of egg on its face). Also, if your favorite driver isn’t mentioned on TV and can’t compete in this points format, maybe they should work a little harder to get their cars to go faster and they will get mentioned on TV.

09/24/2009 08:35 AM

Interesting, but way too much emphasis on winning.

For one thing, where is Logano in your chart? By my calculations he should be somewhere around Vickers for winning NH in June, but he is not even listed, which brings me to my point…all wins are not created equal.

Logano’s win was a win, but a cheapie. Gordon and #2 Busch were the best cars that day, and they just needed a few more laps to get to a great finish, but the rains came. Giving the #2 a 400 point kick down the ladder for something like that would be a bit of an outrage.

Winning is great, but this is not a one on one competition…coming in somewhere in the top ten and getting squat for points would make for an awfully frustrated group of racers.

09/24/2009 08:37 AM

I may be mistaken, but I believe it was the television contracts that required 43 cars start every week. Any sport that pays thousands of dollars to a car to take a green flag and then park a car is flawed.

The Turnip
09/24/2009 08:51 AM

MMMMM, nice try, but still needs some thought!

Guess we need to start thinking outside the box! The “points” box anyway. As long as you have 43 cars starting a race, only rewarding the top 8 places, well, in my opinion, lets not even run the races, lets just all go to the Hendrick Shop and present the trophies! (Stewart/Martin/Johnson!

Walleyed Fran¢e The Drunk
09/24/2009 08:56 AM

How about just going back to doing things the way they were when the “sport” wasn’t broken. NA$CAR was great before the Drunk took over. Now it is just an afterthought in the sports world with minimal ratings and no real direction. Stop changing things to try to be like other sports. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. There was no reason to change it up in the first place. Greed will destroy most everything

Carl D.
09/24/2009 09:14 AM


Your system is a gazillion times better than what we have now, but Jim makes a valid point about rain shortened races. It doesn’t seem right to penalize a team a potential 500 points because they made a wrong call on rain strategy. Chad Knauss has a pretty strong resume, but I have a feeling “meteorologist” isn’t on it. And could you imagine the potential controversy if the last race of the season was rain-shortened?

Come up with a fix for that and I’ll recognize you as “ Grand Pooh-Ba” (correct spelling per even if no one else does.

The Turnip
09/24/2009 09:54 AM

Hey “Walleyed France the Drunk”!

Your probably the closest on this thing! All we seem to be trying to do is FIXTHE CHASE!

Lets just dump it and get back to basics!

(maybe with a tweak or two)

09/24/2009 09:58 AM

The way NASCAR changes the rules from minute to minute…why not try your proposed points system? It just might work.

09/24/2009 10:02 AM

I think your system is good, but, I prefer an IRL type system. Winner gets 200, second gets 160. If your going F1 style, as your system does, I would pay points out to 16, and have a 200 points for first, 150 for second.

P on U
09/24/2009 10:05 AM

Ha Ha Wall eye! So true. Maybe look at what was going on when this sport was booming: NO CHASE, a car that drivers and teams could work with, NO BRIAN FRANCE! I thnk if they made these minor adjustments it would take off again =)

Bill B
09/24/2009 12:08 PM

Yeah… if Walleyed’s option is on the table I vote for that.

09/24/2009 12:50 PM

I like it. Maybe a few more positions should be rewarded, though; Indy and F1 have smaller fields than NASCAR.

And a race that ends under rain should be considered equal to all others for points purposes. A win is a win, and a win on a wet track is no less valid than a win on (insert your least-favorite track here).

The Turnip
09/24/2009 01:22 PM

Or how about ZERO points being awarded, race by race, and the CHUMPION at years end is the driver who won the most money!

09/24/2009 01:24 PM

Leave it the way it is and quit your bitching!

09/24/2009 01:53 PM

The gap from 500 to 200 is too, too huge and drivers who win on a fluke like Keselowski/Logano/Reutimann (none of which you listed) would get way too much advantage. Even F1, renowned for acknowledging winning the most, only had a gap from 10-6, and then changed it to 10-8. The proportional equivalent to what you are suggesting would have been 15-6.

F1 and IRL and CART all award or awarded 80% of the winner’s points to second place and that seems fine (it’s still more than the winner gets now). F1 which has fields of 20-22 depending on the season awards the top 8, CART which had fields of 28 in its heyday awarded the top 12, and IRL which usually has smaller fields awards everyone by giving 18th-24th the same points and 25th-33rd the same points. That’s another effective way to help ensure people don’t return to the track many laps down. The one cheesy thing about the IRL points system is that it awards half points to drivers who fail to start, but besides that, that system is what an ideal Cup points system should be modeled after.

Something like:

1 – 200
2 – 160
3 – 140
4 – 120
5 – 100
6 – 90
7 – 80
8 – 70
9 – 60
10 – 50
11 – 45
12 – 40
13 – 35
14 – 30
15 – 25
16-20 – 24-20
21-24 – 19-16
25-34 – 15
35-43 – 10
Lead 1 lap – 0
Pole – 5
Lead most laps – 10

don mei
09/24/2009 04:25 PM

As a lot of you know I have been advocating a 100 point differential between first and second on the grounds that second is first loser. Also points only to the top dozen or 15 or whatever we agree on. (Lets get the rolling wrecks off the racetrack) Absent that..Ill take your system Matt….anything but what we have now.

09/24/2009 05:40 PM

Actually, I like the concept. Especially in terms of rewarding the winner of the race. One comment referenced Logano and why he wouldn’t have been in the Top 12. Well, consistency in some sort would still have to be a factor. In other words, he didn’t run up front enough to benefit from the sole victory. That in itself would prevent ringers coming in for specific races (road courses) and making the Chase.

The one problem I have is that they need to pay down further. I think it is important to keep full fields, but by awarding points down to only 8th is counter to that. I would say the Top 25 or Top 30 would be awarded points in some fashion. That would remove the incentive of those teams that have problems early of getting back on the track only for the purpose of gaining points.

Otherwise, I think for once you are onto something.

09/24/2009 09:37 PM

The latford system was good but it did not pay enough points for winning it should be 225 to win and 175 for 2nd and if someone runs away with the championship they deserve it and it is better than a driver winning it who does not. If the morons at Na$car and sponsors insist on the chase it should be to make the chase you must win 1 race and finish in the top 10 in points you must do both and if 6 drivers make the playoffs so be it at least you would have a deserving champion.

09/24/2009 10:39 PM

Here is how I would set the points:

Winner – 250
2nd – 200
3rd – 160
4th – 130
5th – 100
6th – 90
7th – 80
8th – 70
9th – 60
10th – 50
11th – 40
(-2 points per position)
21st – 20
(-1 point per position)
30th – 11
31st or worse – 10 (all drivers outside the top 30 get the same points)

Pole – 10
Outside pole – 5
Fastest lap – 5
Lead a lap – 5
Lead most laps – 10 (perfect weekend = 280)

Kevin in SoCal
09/24/2009 11:43 PM

The biggest problem I see with Matt’s system is I believe it will turn into a destruction derby with 10 laps to go. The 9th-12 place cars are going to start wrecking the guys in front of them so they can get into the points.

How about we keep the current system we have now, but only pay points to the drivers on the lead lap?