Home / Amy Henderson / Holding a Pretty Wheel: Getting to the Point(s) with NASCAR
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Holding a Pretty Wheel: Getting to the Point(s) with NASCAR

Earlier this week, I wrote that one thing NASCAR needs as the sport enters a new television contract is a more meaningful championship. The current format has left a lot of fans frustrated, because the championship feels somehow less than it used to, especially in the last few years, when it comes down to one race.

That’s fair. Under the current format, it’s hard to even say it takes a whole season to get to the championship race.  Case in point: 2018, where Joey Logano had a strong, consistent year but really didn’t insert himself into the title contender conversation until the last weekend in October, when he won at Martinsville Speedway to lock into the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And while Logano had a great year, there were drivers who, overall, had a better one. Kyle Busch scored the most points and Kevin Harvick tied with Busch for the most wins.

I’ve never been one to say any driver would have won if the points lasted all year.  While it’s true some teams figured out how to use the playoffs to their advantage over the years, it’s also probably true that those teams would have employed a completely different strategy under a full-season system, so that’s a wash. There have been years where one driver has been so dominant that without a playoff reset, it’s likely they would have won, but to say anyone would or would not have won is presumptuous.

In any case, there are ways NASCAR could implement a full-season points system that deserve a closer look.

Simply eliminate the playoffs.  The current one-point system keeps things naturally fairly close while allowing a dominant driver to still build a cushion. Every position matters, so there’s incentive to race.  Stage points aren’t necessary, but they do add some incentive early in the races, so an argument could be made for keeping them. Bringing back bonus points for leading the most laps and a bigger point payout for winning would make running up front even more important.

Finally, because every position matters so much, NASCAR needs to eliminate the crash clock and allow teams to run out the race.  If they impede the leaders, slap them with a penalty, but if they have enough heart and pride to get back out there, let them go for it.

The one-point system worked in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series for several years without playoffs, and those titles often still came down to the final race.  When they didn’t, it was hard to argue that the champion didn’t deserve it or got lucky.

Resurrect the Latford system.  This was the system used throughout the modern era until the one-point system took over.  Top positions were worth more points than backmarker ones.  What that did was reward drivers who ran up front week in and week out, allowing them to break away from the pack a bit.

The drawback, according to some, was the ease with which a driver could win a title under this system without winning multiple races. It came to a head, of course, in 2003, when Matt Kenseth won the title with a single win while Ryan Newman, with eight wins, finished sixth.  The reason why was simple: Kenseth’s average finish was almost four positions better, while Newman had seven DNFs to go with those wins.

Still, the system worked for many years.  Upping the points for a win would help solve the consistency over winning issue — if it really even is one.  I’m not convinced that it’s a problem. Kenseth deserved his title as much as any other driver who won under the same system.

Follow INDYCAR’s lead. The IndyCar Series has a graduated point system, which, like the Latford system, awards more points for higher finishes, but with an even greater spread. The winner gets 50 points, second 40, third 35 and so on, with the spread getting smaller toward the back of the field.  One notable difference, though, is that after a certain point, all drivers receive the same points.  The last nine finishers, regardless of whether they completed one lap or the entire race, get five points.  That would eliminate the slow cars on track while ensuring some payout.

Take the Formula 1 hard line. F1’s graduated points system awards points only to the top 10 cars in each race, with the winner getting 25 points and the 10th-place driver one.  That would be a tough sell in NASCAR for both teams and fans, as there are so many competitive teams, which is not really the case in F1.

What it would do is increase competition in the middle of the pack, forcing those drivers to race tooth and nail to secure a few points. It could also quite possibly help some of the smallest teams at the end of the year, as it’s very likely several teams would have zero points for the season, meaning an even distribution of point money among them.

On the flip side, there’s not a lot of incentive for the entire field to finish every race.  Starting and parking, which has more or less died a natural death, could easily become rampant again.  In a field of 40, the number of drivers getting points would have to be expanded, but even so, the rift between the haves and have-nots would widen, and that’s not healthy.

Keep it really, really simple. One more option to consider is to simply award the title to the driver with the most wins. After all, winning is the main goal here, and this would guarantee those wins really mean something, as in everything. If the current system allows teams to set back for several weeks to prepare for the title run, this would allow them no such luxury.

It would be easy to set the rest of the field based on full-season points, with one per position, is with a greater spread, and the tiebreaker could remain the same as now (most second-place finishes and on down the line) or revert to overall points.

The downside here is that while wins would mean more, a lot of drivers would be eliminated weeks early. Overall, that’s not a terrible idea, but to fans of individual drivers it could quickly become a reason not to watch late in the year.  Many fans worry about a driver winning too much, and this could easily magnify that.

The main thing is, there are several options here.  NASCAR doesn’t necessarily need to step backward, though in some cases, this being one, a step back is healthy.  There’s a big opportunity for change here, a change which would both keep fans interested in the races and erase any feelings they have of whether the champion truly deserves it.  The seeds of doubt that the current system plants all too often flourish, and that’s not a good position for anyone in the sport.

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

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19 comments

  1. Avatar

    Am I the only one who is tired of this argument?

  2. Avatar

    The problem began when BZF decided that a playoff, gimmicks and “Game 7 moments” is what the fans wanted without even asking any of them. It has never been the championship that made the sport so popular. Its pretty astounding that the guy who led the sport, never could figure that out.

    The fans were given though, even though nobody wanted it, and that’s when the sport started its downfall. What very few people mentioned about Kenseth’s championship (but which Amy addressed here) is that Newman had as many DNF’s as Wins. That calculates to a middle of the pack average finish so Kenseth was very deserving of his title in my opinion.

    Nascar is a different animal than the stick and ball sports and before Brian destroyed it, the race on Sunday was more important than the championship. The racing was good, the tracks went to a different configuration almost every week, which kept the fan base interested. Now everything about the sport is stale as can be. The difference is, the old school fans are just about gone and now all they have are whats left over. Back to being a niche sport.

    My opinion has always been, configure the points to award a wide gap between 1st and 2nd and you will get guys going hard for the win every week. If you want to keep it simple, get rid of all the gimmicks and get back to racing and putting a quality product on the track and the sport will thrive again.

    My $0.02

  3. Avatar

    They need to just leave it alone for a long time. We’ve been tweaking on this thing since 2004 and its exhausting. They’re never going to eliminate the playoffs. The current system with stage and playoff points awards rewards season long performance to give the top preforming teams an easier path to the Championship Race, and NASCAR/NBC get their winner take all finale. It’s not like the season long format/Latford system was perfect. There are more than a few years where the best team all year did not take the Championship (e.g. 1992, 1996, etc.), and prior to 1972 they used to change the format regularly. The most important challenge for NASCAR is not the “points system” its the quality of the racing. If the racing is good, no one cares about the format.

  4. Avatar

    Last year Harvick and Busch tied in wins. If the driver with the most wins gets the title would NA$CAR hand out two trophies and pay each driver the championship money? Since only wins count who gets the trophy? If there is another criteria like most second place finishes then a driver with the most wins still doesn’t win the title so what is the POINT? That would reward CONSISTENCY which is what a POINTS champion should reward over a whole season.

  5. Avatar

    NASCAR should follow a point system similar to F1. Reward the best drivers. Top 10 points: 50,36,30,24,20,16,12,8,4,2.
    11th-40th will receive 1point.

    Give a bonus point for leading a lap and leading the most laps.

    Double Points for NASCAR Majors. Daytona 500, Coke 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400. Also for the championship Finale.

    Have the majors revert to old school NASCAR Rules. Single file restarts, lapped cars inside. No lucky dog, overtime or wave around. Treat the race as a classic and a prestigious race. Similar to the PGA Tour and the Masters.

  6. Avatar

    I always thought about doing a point system similar to the F1 points system. However, give the race winner 50. So double points. 1-10th would be rewarded: 50, 36, 30, 24, 20, 16, 12, 8, 4, 2. Drivers finishing 11th-40th would receive 1pt. Drivers that lead a lap receive 1 bonus point and a driver that leads the most receives 1pt. So a maximum of 52 points.

    Have the Nascar “Majors” Daytona 500, Coke 600, Southern 500, Brickyard 400 reward double points. 100, 72, 60, 48, 40, 32, 24, 16, 8, 4 and 2 pts for 11-40.

    Maybe make the finale double points as well. I would prefer if they are a “Major” race that those races follow the old school nascar rules format. No Overtime, Single file restarts with lapped cars on the inside, no lucky dog or wave around.

    Those races would be cherished with the throwback rules and place an even bigger importance on strategy and race craft to stay up front and not fall behind. Also a driver that wins a major would get a huge advantage within the points. Having a long 36 race season you can focus on performing the best you can at Majors to give yourself a title shot. Also if you are multiple laps down finishing 11-40th rewards the same amount of points. So parking the car wouldn’t affect anything.

  7. Avatar

    Go back to racing for the checkered flag. Get rid of the wave arounds , lucky dog, stage racing, and win and you are in. Let each race stand on it’s on. That’s what puts seats in the seats. NA$CAR is being ruined by the Hollywood crowd looking for “show, not go”.

    • Avatar

      In doing that, you might as well have a field of only 15 cars. Only 15 cars (even less) are actually able to contend for wins on a weekly basis. Stage Racing allows smaller teams to get (or have a chance to) gain extra points. Wave arounds and lucky dogs also give the less fortunate teams a chance to contend for a better finish than projected. What ever happened to the classic days of independent drivers and teams, not these cash hoarders who come from IndyCar or other sports? So unless you want NASCAR to have the same drivers from the same teams winning every race like Richard Petty did in the 60s, I suggest we only change the things that NEED to be changed, like Pay-to-Drive Drivers (Brandon Jones)

      • Avatar

        This sounds like everyone gets a trophy bullshit. If you can’t stay on the lead lap, get better. Find better sponsors, hire better personnel, whatever it takes. 18th place pays points and money too, the same amount whether you are on the lead lap or one lap down. If there are 10 cars on the lead lap, 10 cars 1 lap down and 10 cars 2 laps down, they are all fighting for the best finish the can. Why should we keep putting them back on the lead lap to give the illusion that they have a chance two win? More than likely they are going to take away a good finish from someone that ran well the entire race and actually deserved it. Less fortunate teams, what a joke. Striving for parity doesn’t mean propping teams up that can’t keep up.

        • Avatar

          I think the real reason is to give the top tier teams a “do over” if they find trouble in the first part of the race. NASCAR has shown time and again they care not about the back markers. The story sounds familiar… they market it as helping the little guys, but in reality it’s just more corporate welfare for the deep pockets.

    • Avatar

      Except the Hollywood crowd moved on ten years ago and no longer care about NASCAR. It just seems like NASCAR’s governing body is the last to realize that.

  8. Avatar

    honestly, NASCAR needs to undo a lot that was implemented during the BZF reign of error….except keep ALL the safety innovations…

    • Avatar

      Agree tho I’d caveat it by saying get rid of everything implemented by bzf (sans safety innovations). And, since na$car now owns ARCA, they should adopt the their point system.

      (source: Wikipedia)

      Every finishing position between 1st and 40th is separated by five points, with the winning driver receiving 200 points and the 40th place driver receiving five points. Any driver who finishes behind 40th will receive five points.

      Points are also awarded for qualifying, with: 15 points awarded to the pole position, 10 points for the second fastest qualifier, and five for the third fastest qualifier.

      Any driver who leads an official lap will receive five bonus points.

      The driver who leads the most official laps will receive an additional five points.

      All drivers who pre-enter and compete in a race will receive an additional 25 points.

      Any driver who enters and competes in each pre-designated five race leg of the overall schedule will receive an additional 100 points.

  9. Avatar

    To me, it’s not even so much about the championship.
    This whole format (and its predecessors) changed how the season unfolds. It has killed many of the late summer races, particularly the Bristol night race. No one wanted to be castigated for making contact with Paul Menard or Ryan Newman or anyone else mired in 14th-18th place in the points standings. Even the Southern 500 at Darlington has lost some steam, with the throwback themes camouflaging some lackluster racing. There never used to be a mention of the championship in Victory Lane at the Daytona 500.

    • Avatar

      AMEN rg72! The focus from race one on the championship has bled off interest in many of the races. People managed for YEARS without having hysterics because the title had been sewn up before the last race. If a team has the capability to do so, good on them. If there was more emphasis on EACH RACE instead of the title, maybe fans would put their ‘fannies’ in the seats again. I gave up my Bristol season tickets after the ‘chase’ happened and it made Bristol just another race. They had a system that wasn’t broke, but they ‘fixes’ it anyway.