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NASCAR Points? What’s the Point?

FRONTSTRETCH‘S WAKE UP! IT’S 2011 WEEK

NASCAR fans, take note; Frontstretch is back and ready to roll for 2011! This week, we’re all over the NASCAR Media Tour with our free newsletter coverage and reports from writers Amy Henderson, Mike Neff, Jay Pennell live at the scene – plus some insider information from Tom Bowles sprinkled in. So step out of hibernation, put this website back in your bookmarks and enjoy the fresh, edgy take on your favorite sport everyone’s talking about!

The 2011 season hasn’t even started and already trying to count NASCAR points is causing migraines. That’s right; fans are popping aspirin well before the Top 35 in owner points secure their locked-in positions into the Daytona 500, rendering pole day and the Duel races merely shells of their former significance. They’re causing pain and suffering well before 26 races’ worth of results are all but thrown out the window to set the Chase field at Richmond. For crying out loud, it’s not even Speedweeks yet!

As touched on in this column one week ago, the new “fix” that will prevent Cup drivers from winning the Nationwide Series championship (while contesting the full schedule anyway) is going to do far more than to cheapen and degrade the legitimacy of that series’ crown further; it’s also going to make the points utterly convoluted. And that confusion goes beyond the fact that Nationwide regulars with no wins and only a smattering of top-10 finishes are going to be leading in the points chase while they’re not even remotely close to sniffing the lead many weekends.

The decision by NASCAR to award points based on finishing position, while simply not awarding points to the positions that Cup drivers fill, is contradictory to the entire reason they changed the scoring in the first place… to keep the Nationwide Series regulars and their title chase from being at the mercy of the Buschwhackers. With this scoring system in place, the exact opposite happens. Even if Cup drivers still be able to run and win scores of races and carpetbag all the purse money that goes with it isn’t bad enough, the fact that they aren’t scoring points doesn’t mean that they won’t have a huge impact on the title chase.

Rewind back to March of 2010, when Justin Allgaier scored one of only two race wins for non-Cup drivers in Nationwide competition last year. Allgaier scored 190 points for his victory. Cup drivers scored positions two through six in the final running order, with Reed Sorenson coming home seventh, second among non-Cup regulars.

Had Allgaier and Sorenson been racing for the Nationwide crown this time one year ago, Allgaier would have gained 46 points on the second-place finisher. Now move on to the August race at Montreal, where Boris Said scored the only other non-Cup win of 2010. Jacques Villeneuve was the runner-up among Nationwide regulars that day, but since he finished third, Said only made up 20 points for his victory.

Why should the number of Cup drivers in a race (and where they finish) impact the Nationwide points? Wasn’t that the entire point of forbidding them from running for the title in the first place, to allow the Nationwide regulars to decide their own championship amongst themselves?

Epic fail.

Just as the Chase has convincingly demonstrated that running a race where different segments of the field are scored differently as they compete simultaneously has proven to be anything but positive for NASCAR coverage and competition, the Nationwide Series is likely going to be in a very similar boat with this new scoring system. Only difference is, the Nationwide guys are going to be putting up with it 35 times a year instead of just 10.

So the Nationwide Series is broken, what else is new? Well, in addition to the Chase, the Cup Series may well be facing a new problem also relating to the points system. Concerned both with correcting a culture of points racing that is perceived to have had a negative impact on NASCAR competition, as well as trying to make the scoring system easier to understand for fans, NASCAR is now reportedly considering a move to scoring that would award 43 points for a winner, with that number decreasing by one point a position to the 43rd-place driver, who would score just one.

If they’re trying to make something that’s simpler, well, mission accomplished. But this points system does absolutely nothing to alter the impact the current scoring system has on both the racing and team practices. It certainly doesn’t put more of an emphasis on winning; under the current system, a second-place finisher scores 92% of the points that a winner does. Under the new system, the second-place finisher will score 98% of the points the winner does, bonus points excluded.

To put that in further perspective, the 43-1 system will create more, not less, incentive to stroke along for a top-10 finish instead of gunning for a win. Under the current system, an eighth-place result scores 77% of the points the winner does, while under the new system they would score 84% for the same finish. This newly proposed system may make the points tighter, but one thing they’re not going to do is incentivize winning.

This isn’t rocket science. Want to incentivize winning? Award 250, 300 points for a win in the current system. Make a win mandatory to make the Chase. Make it about winning or leave the damned points alone. Want to award wins? Award them. Want to award consistency? Get rid of the Chase. Want to create a Nationwide Series champion that’s a Nationwide Series regular? Get the non-regulars out. Enough with this pussy-footing around.

Though while on the topic of points, one convoluted system that race fans won’t have to worry about in 2011 is the one used to determine the Rookie of the Year (notice it doesn’t say Raybestos Rookie of the Year, they’ve run away from that program after last year’s Kevin Conway vs. Terry Cook cage match). Why? There are none, at least in the Cup and Nationwide series ranks.

Go figure. The one points system that’s not going to be cause for concern in 2011 is the one that most fans would like to see active. Because a lack of rookies, just like the lack of a constructive points system, is certainly not something to celebrate.

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