Race Weekend Central

Side By Side: Should NASCAR Award Bonus Points Throughout Each Race?

_Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we're going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!_ *This Week's Question: NASCAR is looking at all sorts of ways to make the racing early in events more competitive. To do so, should they begin awarding point \"bonuses\" for segments of events (first 100 laps, second 100 laps, etc.) so drivers will be encouraged to race harder?* <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike Neff, Senior Writer: Segmented Bonus Points Are a Must</span> We’ve heard the same ol’ song and dance for years and it has never been more prevalent since the advent of the Chase. Drivers ride around for most of the race and then drive hard at the end because that is when they pay the money and the points. There is no incentive to go hard during the middle of the event unless you’re trying to lead the most laps, and with the current point system, where you only get one point for leading the most, the danger of losing twenty or thirty points due to a crash is far more daunting than trying to get the one bonus point. As a result, fans are turning away from the sport more and more because the only parts of the race worth watching are the beginning and the end. The time has come for NASCAR to give the drivers a reason to push hard throughout the event. The tracks on the NASCAR circuit, as well as the events themselves, come in a variety of different lengths, so it would not work to pay points at a specific numbered lap. Instead, what NASCAR must do is decide what percentage of the race will result in the awarding of in-race points. The most logical, and easiest for the fans to understand (which is a priority apparently for the folks in Daytona) is to pay points at the quarter marks of the race. However many laps are to be contested, divide that number by four and pay the points after each segment of the race that contains that many laps. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15500.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"172\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Would awarding points in designated segments throughout each race create close racing…</p></div> In simple terms, the Daytona 500 is 200 laps long. Divide the total number of laps by four and you get 50-lap segments. When the first 50 laps of the race is completed, points are awarded. Then, you do it again at the halfway point and finally at the three-quarter mark before the ultimate points are awarded for the finishing order. You will have the same formula at every track; there will just be different numbers of laps in the segments. The drivers will know before the race starts what the lap numbers are so that they can focus on being in the best position at those points in the race. You wouldn't want NASCAR to award full race points at each of these segments, but rewarding the top 5 or even the top 10 would make things much more interesting. If they paid 10 points for leading at each quarter point of the race, a driver could actually score more points than the winner by leading at the three-quarter mark but coming home second in the race. Some fans might object to that, though, and NASCAR could obviously tweak the points so that the winner is guaranteed the most points on a race weekend. But the point is that it will give drivers an incentive to go hard for the whole race and someone can actually make up some ground in the standings, something that is extremely hard to do these days. Paying points for more than the quarters might give too much to the drivers leading or near the front of the pack for most of the race but not at the finish. However, it will encourage the drivers to go hard early and often during the race to keep themselves in contention for the bonus points throughout the event. Race strategies will develop around these point milestones. Some teams might stay out under a caution to garner the points while other teams pit. When the points are earned the teams who stayed out will then pit and the cars at the back of the pack will now be up front. It will open a myriad of possibilities which will all add excitement to the event. Would this idea be harder to follow than the current point system? A little bit. However, the thing that most fans want to know is where does their driver sit at the end of the day? They really don’t care about the points that are earned throughout the race or where their driver runs. As a result, the drivers will know when they want to be up front and getting there will add excitement to the events. It will also open up sponsorship opportunities for race promoters because each segment could have a sponsor paying a purse to the leader. It would hearken back to the old halfway bonus. For those who don’t remember, there used to be a halfway bonus of $10,000 for the driver leading at the crossed flags. It cost Dale Jarrett the Brickyard 400 one year because he tried to stretch his fuel to the halfway point and ran out. Racing should be about trying to lead the most laps and beating the competition. Unfortunately, it has come down to a points management game now. The only way to get the competitive excitement back into the sport, while still allowing the bean counters the chance to keep track of points is to offer them more often throughout the events. In the end, it will make for a much better show. <span style=\"color:orange; font-weight:bold\">S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: There's no need for more bonus points</span> And welcome to the New Hampshire 100, three times the charm, trophy awarded to all comers, presented by NASCAR and your local T-ball team. No, it is not worth your while as a top-notch professional stock car team to go balls to the wall all 500 laps, proving to the world that your machine is the most durable, that you've hired a pilot with both endurance and wits, and that you've the wherewithal to garner enough sponsors to pay your bills. No, it's quite all right. We've got you covered. <div style=\"float:left; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15495.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"375\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">…or would it simply mean everyone gets a ribbon while the winner's accomplishment is diminished?</p></div> Instead of pushing every limit on man and machine, we've got a brand new way of doing business for the Sprint Cup Series. We're going to fully embrace the title sponsor's name and turn Sunday's marathon into a Saturday Night Special. Every 50 laps we'll award a ribbon to the boy or girl who slips past the start/finish line first–there's a new flag designed for the moment – it features a cartoon character. We're just waiting for the fan poll to come through so we can name it. We've also decided to print a certificate for the best fuel mileage, snazziest pit crew uniforms and most dramatic performance by a crew chief. If that's not enough, there's the 75-lap, 50/50 raffle to keep the fans interested. During the lap 150 scheduled break, the track mascot will scamper up and down the stands awarding the brightest fan (that's brightest…as in t-shirt color) free tickets to come back again. On lap 225, there will be a Twitter poll with random participants earning points toward a meet n' greet with the lap 275 leader. Victory Lane? That has been abbreviated into a photo op with the State Troopers in the parking lot while the team tries to escape the traffic jam. No, you cannot improve the racing of the Sprint Cup Series by chopping up the event into shorter, lucrative segments. By doing so, you will have devalued all that the teams have worked so hard to achieve in reaching the upper echelon of stock car racing in America. There are no 500-lap features at your local Friday night track. The cars won't last. The drivers aren't as good. The ruts in the surface would probably crumble. By reaching the Sprint Cup Series, you have proven that you've got the goods to go the distance. When you take the trophy, you've done what many others have only dreamed of accomplishing: beat the competition by being the brightest, fastest, strongest, most adaptive, focused, intelligent and on the occasion just plain lucky. And yes, by driving smart for the first 499 laps. The fat lady only sings once a race. That's what we hand out the big checks for and that's the way it should remain. Otherwise, we should close every major racing venue and excuse ourselves to the splintered benches of Thompson, Irwindale, and Eldora. *Connect with Sonya!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/laregna\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact S.D. Grady\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14360/ *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Tech Talk: Comparing Loop Data To Analyze The Gen-6

_Author's Note: An unexpected scheduling conflict caused our crew chief to be unavailable this week, so we're going to take a look at the loop data statistics from last year's Phoenix race vs. this year's to see what the performance of the Gen-6 vs. COT looks like from a purely data-driven perspective._ NASCAR compiles a mountain of statistics each week that allow digit heads across the land, and in the garage area, to make unbiased comparisons on many different levels. Since Sunday's race was the first unrestricted event for the latest version of the Cup Series car, it just might be interesting to see what the numbers reveal. The first numbers we'll look at are quality passes. A quality pass is one that occurs on a car running in the top 15 under green flag conditions. In last year's race, Jimmie Johnson finished fourth but had the most quality passes during the race with 63. Interestingly, in 2013, Brad Keselowski finished fourth and also had the most quality passes; however, the defending champion only notched 35 of them. In looking at the quality passes, the top 11 passers in 2012's Spring Phoenix race made more than the top passer in 2013. That's sign that to pass someone, last Sunday it was far more difficult than during the race a year before. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15503.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"102\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Much has been said of the Gen-6 cars leading into the 2013 season, but are they really that much better than the COT was?</p></div> Next up is the speed in traffic stat. It gives you the average speed of the driver when he has another car within one car length of them during green flag laps. This year's top runner at Phoenix was Matt Kenseth with a speed of 129.807 mph. Last year's best in traffic was Jimmie Johnson who clocked 130.260 mph. When it was all said and done, the speed of the top runners was nearly identical from one year to the next. Third up is the statistic that backs up the argument that you always hear from the people who attend the race in person. They always maintain that there is so much more action back in the pack than what you see on TV. Green flag passes will most definitely let you know which race had the most excitement from front to back of the pack. In 2012, Jimmie Johnson once again led the category with no less than 90 passes during green flag competition. That was nearly 50% more than this year's king of the overtake, AJ Allmendinger, who put the move on 61 cars throughout the length of the race. The top 12 drivers in the 2012 green flag pass statistics made more green flag passes than the top passer in 2013. Laps led is another category that indicates the competitive nature of a race. More drivers leading laps means more drivers were at the front. Certainly some laps led occur when drivers stay out during cautions, but in the long run, more drivers leading laps indicates more competitive races. 2013 saw nine drivers lead laps, with five of them leading double digit laps and Carl Edwards leading the most at 122 circuits. In comparison, 2012 saw 15 drivers lead the field across the line, but only five of them led double digit laps. The mandate that came down from above as the manufacturers and NASCAR's R&D center started working on the latest edition of the Cup series car was to have more side-by-side racing and more passes for the lead. While there is a long way to go and many things to be learned about this new car, for now it is looking like the older car was a bit more competitive. However, the older car had been around for six years, and there had been a lot of tricks and techniques learned to make it better. For now, the jury is still out on the new car. But, looking at the numbers that were accumulated last Sunday, the older car was faster, had more passing and more leaders. We'll see what it looks like when the series rolls back into Phoenix in November. *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2013 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona

On lap 16, Tony Stewart attempted to change lanes and make a move on race leader Matt Kenseth. While he wasn’t cleared by his spotter, Stewart chose to shift down low which resulted in his left rear corner making contact with the right front of Marcos Ambrose. Stewart’s car got out of shape, made contact with the apron and sent a shower of sparks over several cars that were pursuing him. Jimmie Johnson checked up in the high line, which caused Denny Hamlin to make contact with the five-time champ, turning him down in front of the oncoming pack and ultimately taking out one-third of the field. The accident eliminated defending champion Kyle Busch, two-time Unlimited champion Jeff Gordon, 2006 winner Denny Hamlin and 1999 winner Mark Martin. Just like that, the field was reduced by one-third, many contenders sat idle in the garage and the drafting – along with the racing – became a shell of its former self.

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead

Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who pitted on a quick caution on lap 155. In the end, it resulted in the No. 24 having enough fuel to make it to the finish when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had to pit from the front of the field. Gordon ended the night taking the first win for Hendrick Motorsports at Homestead-Miami Speedway while his teammate Jimmie Johnson sat in his car in the garage, having lost the championship due to a faulty rear end.

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix

Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer, collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola as the field was coming to the white flag. The result was a green-white-checkered finish, one that saw Danica Patrick wreck on the first of two laps, lay down a large amount of oil on the track, then cause a complete melee on the front straight as the cars came to the checkered flag. The final wreck tore up over half-a-dozen race cars while the incident between Gordon and Bowyer set off a rumble in the garage, one reminiscent of the Tide team vs. the Kodiak crew at the 1989 Winston.

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 AAA Texas 500

During the seventh caution flag of the night, Brad Keselowski took two tires on his pit stop to regain lost track position while Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch took four. That got Kes the lead, for a series of restarts but kept what was likely the fastest car from having the speed to pull away. While Busch faded into the background, that decision would ultimately result in Johnson and Keselowski finishing first and second.

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

During the pit stops for a lap 476 caution, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed out while Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and the rest of the lead lap cars came in for two tires. Johnson restarted behind Keselowski and worked him over for four laps before taking the lead for good. In the end, Keselowski ended up about where he would have finished with tires, while some of the other top contenders on the day ended up falling back to unsatisfying results.

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