Instant Reaction: NASCAR's Point System, Chase Changes Come Up Short

At least it started off well.

Brian France, proudly standing before the assembled media and a live TV audience for his annual "State of the Sport" address, listed off NASCAR's accomplishments from the past year and let the anticipation build for the big announcement.

What would the changes be? The unknowns were exciting. Whatever NASCAR decided, it could be really big for a sport in need of a boost.

The basics of the new 1-43 points system had already leaked out, but the chief mystery was the amount of bonus points awarded to race winners.

It figured to be significant, because several NASCAR officials had indicated they were listening to the fans who had grown weary of hearing about "good points days." To that end, NASCAR had hinted it would award winning more than in the past.

Many fans say they prefer winning over consistency, and France stood tall and announced their cries had reached his ears.

This was the moment.

"The fans have been clear about one thing: They care about winning," France said. "They don't want the drivers to just be content with good points day or a good run."

Yes! YES!! Yesssssssssssssssss!!!! NASCAR had actually listened! Change was finally here!

I wanted to jump out of my seat and high-five ol' Brian. Heck, forget "Brian" – he would be "Mr. France" from now on to me.

So what was the grand reward for a win, Mr. France? Seven points would have a big impact in a 1-43 system, though 10 might be pretty cool. Would he go for even more bonus points and really make an impact?

Tell us, Mr. France.

"A driver...gets 43 points plus three bonus points for winning the race and a point for leading a lap, for a total of 47 points for the win," he said.

Three bonus points? Just three? That's going to make drivers suddenly risk their "good points days" and go for the win?

Oh, Brian...

"It's slightly better for a win than the old system, albeit just slightly," France conceded. "Most importantly, though, we didn't make a fundamental change in wins or anything else because there's always a balance. We like that balance."

Hang on...I'm confused.

First, France said he had heard the fans who were weary of hearing about consistency and good points days and wanted to see more of a reward for winning. Right? Yes, he said that.

But then he said the most important thing was that NASCAR didn't change the overall impact that wins have.

I slumped down in my chair, the disappointment starting to sink in. Maybe they hadn't listened after all.

France followed up a few minutes later by acknowledging NASCAR "may not take leaps in some instances," but that fans would see a "steady march to making and featuring winning as more and more important part of this sport."

"It's always important – don't misunderstand me," he said. "But...with our policies and approach, we're going to try to feature that."

In some ways, he's right. When I threw my support behind the new points system/Chase qualifying rules last week, one attractive element was the wild card rule.

The wild card truly has the potential to make the Chase bubble drivers go for wins (knowing a couple wins and a 20th-place points finish would get them into the playoff).

But I was certain the new system would include a bigger emphasis on winning. They said it would. But without a sizable points bonus, the Chase wild card by itself won't fundamentally change how drivers race. Not even close.

In true NASCAR tradition, consistency will rule. It will rule in the regular season and it will rule in the Chase. Whoever wins the championship will be the most consistent driver.

Look, that's not the worst thing in the world. That's how it's always been. But if France said he was going to award winning more and spoke of seeking more "Game 7 type moments" and all that, then what's up with the three bonus points?

"You can't expect a great season to just be measured on wins alone," France said. "... All we're saying is wherever we turn...to manage the balance and consistency of winning, you're seeing us take steps towards the winning portion of our rules package and procedures."

That's a positive step. It really is. But during a time when the sport is struggling and needs a big jolt, no one was looking for baby steps in Wednesday night's announcement.

I like the simplified points system. I like changing the Chase qualification rules. I really like using practice speeds to set the qualifying order at Cup races and that practices can also be used when qualifying gets rained out.

But those, too, are baby steps. There were no major leaps, nothing that might make a splash and attract new fans while bringing the old ones back.

NASCAR is banking on the racing alone being enough to draw more eyes and attention to the sport. And while that would have been good enough five years ago, I don't think it's enough now.

And that's disappointing.

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