An unintended consequence of NASCAR's new point system


CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 26: NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France speaks to the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 26, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

This probably isn't the best time for this piece.   As we enter the heart of Daytona 500 build up week and the excitement for "The Great American Race" continues to mount, the Chase for the Championship this Fall is probably the furthest thing from your mind.  For this reason, I'll keep it short and not bore you with a long list of byproducts that I think Nascar's new "simpler" point system is going to create.  With that said though, there is one point I want to address right now.

Last month when Nascar announced their new point system, Brian France made the following statement.

"The fans have been clear; they care about winning"

Yes we do; or I least I do.  I can't speak for the entire Nascar fan community as a whole but I'd venture to guess this is the case.  Unfortunately, the new simpler point system that Nascar recently created only makes winning less important once the Chase begins.

Notice I bolded "once the Chase begins" in that last sentence.  I can't stress this enough.  I applaud Nascar for their new 11th and 12th spot "Winner's Wild Card" Chase positions.  Those will undoubtedly make winning more important during the first 26 races and will likely create an abundance of drama during the summer months; especially once a handful of teams realize that they have to win in order to have any shot at the Chase. 

However, once the Chase itself begins, it's going to be a different story.  If you thought consistency was king before, just wait until this Fall when Nascar's new simpler point system brings the hammer down on anyone who dares gamble for a win and ends up with a DNF instead.

To illustrate this point, I created the boxes below.  In the first box, you can see the results of two drivers during a four race stretch and the number of points they would have received under the old point system if they finished in those positions.  Driver A is Mr. Consistency; he finishes 7th all four races while driver B has a "checkers or wreckers" mentality and wins three of the races but has a 40th place finish thrown in there as well.  Let's see who came out on top.

(Note: For all scenarios in this piece I give drivers bonus points for leading a lap when they win but not for finishing anywhere else.  None of the drivers here receive additional bonus points for leading the most laps.)


  Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4 Total Points
Driver A 7th (146 points) 7th (146 points) 7th (146 points) 7th (146 points) 584
Driver B 1st (190 points) 1st (190 points) 40th (43 points) 1st (190 points) 613
Total Margin Driver B: +44 Driver B: +88 Driver A: +15 Driver B: +29  


As you can see, Driver B is able to overcome that 40th place finish in Race 3 and still beat Driver A (Mr. Consistency) by 29 points under Nascar's old system.  Now watch what happens when these drivers finish in the same positions but earn points under Nascar's new simpler point system.


  Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4 Total Points
Driver A 7th (37 points) 7th (37 points) 7th (37 points) 7th (37 points) 148
Driver B 1st (47 points) 1st (47 points) 40th (4 points) 1st (47 points) 145
Total Margin Driver B: +10 Driver B: +20 Driver A: +13 Driver A: +3  


Woha!?!?!?!  Look what happens here.  A win just simply doesn't go as far in erasing a bad finish under the new system as it did under the old one, and I think that's disappointing.  However, what irks me the most is Brian France preaching the importance of winning while simultaneously revealing his new simple but consistency laden method of determining a champion.  Mr. France is either being dishonest with the fan base when he says he wants to make winning more important, or doesn't understand how his own point system functions; and both of these possibilities are unacceptable to me as a fan.  What Nascar failed to understand here, (or just plain ignored, take your pick) is that the exact features which made the old system more complicated, also helped protect winners (a little) from bad finishes over the long haul.  In short, it's weighted difference in positions in spots other than 1st and 2nd were one of it's key features.

Quick example:  Under the old system, the difference between finishing 2nd and 12th was 43 points while the difference between finishing 32nd and 42nd was only 30 points.  In other words, Nascar correctly (in my opinion anyway) realized that the difference between a 2nd place day and a 12th place day was greater than the difference in a 32nd and 42nd place day.  Sadly, this new one point for every position system treats these differences as equals as the gap between 2nd and 12th is now the same ten points as the gap between 32nd and 42nd.

I honestly don't think making winning less important in the Chase was Nascar's intention when they formulated this new points structure but as you can see from the example above, that's exactly what's going to happen.

What a shame.

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