NASCAR’s points system rewards consistency almost as much as it does winning. An unhappy consequence of that is "points racing," whereby a driver will protect, say, his spot in eighth and the points that come along with a decent finish rather than dig to finish higher. And if The Chase for the Championship was designed to blunt that phenomenon, it still exists.
Obviously, other racing series have been confronted with similar issues; and on Tuesday, the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, announced that the 2009 F1 champion will be determined solely on the basis of race wins. Had the system been in place last year, Felipe Massa, and not Lewis Hamilton (above), would have been the F1 champion.
Could such a system be applied to NASCAR?
Though the obvious answer is yes, I’m not sure F1’s solution is any such thing. On the face of it, it seems logical to reward the driver who performed the best most often. But to do so and at the same time entirely dismiss the efforts and achievements of those drivers who salvage, say, a top-3 finish, is at best, misguided. At worst, it will make the chase for sponsorship money that much more challenging to the many F1 teams that have no shot at winning a race or the championship.
At the very least, such a premium for winning renders all but about five cars entirely superfluous to an F1 race. Put another way, the new rule eliminates any real incentive for any of the circuit’s lesser teams to strive to earn a podium finish — there are no points in play, so why bother? Certainly, winning an F1 race will remain a monumental achievement, but to remove even the chance of the ultimate prize — a championship — from all but a select few’s grasp is silly.
The drivers had proposed a simple modification to the F1 scoring system, rewarding race winners more heavily while still recognizing the effort and achievements of the guys who happen to come second or third. Does modification still allow for the possibility that the driver who wins, say, once, as NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth did in 2003, could take the overall? Certainly, but it lessens that likelihood without rendering every other car on the grid an afterthought.
In its weird way, NASCAR has always eyed F1 and its place in the motorsports pantheon jealously, crowing when it entices a driver like Scott Speed to leave the glitz and glamour of F1 for the grit and grime of NASCAR. Though the Chase for the Championship hasn’t quite solved the dilemma of "points racing" — a higher premium for race wins would certainly help — thank goodness NASCAR hasn’t entertained anything as misguided as what F1 has just instituted.