We all know that Jimmie Johnson won the 2009 championship under the current Chase format. Critics – like me – have made the case that every year the Chase is increasingly devoid of drama. So let’s take a look at some other point systems and see how else the 2009 season could have ended. The Jimmie Johnson Era is not inevitable. One of the scnarios produced a different champion, and some of the races were considerably closer than what we had.

1) If we used the Formula 1 system all year, with no Chase reset, Jimmie Johnson would have been the champion. Notice that non-Chasers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth would have been in the top 12, replacing Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers, who wound up being the worst Chaser in history. We would have had a very tight race for second place among Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin. Only 34 drivers would have scored points. Makes me wonder. Could a system be devised in which those 34 automatically qualify for the first five races of 2010?

2) If we used only the full standings after 36 races, without any Chase reset, we would have seen four distinct groups of drivers. First off, Johnson, Gordon and Stewart would have been the class of the field, all within 100 points of each other. Behind them would have been the trio of Hamlin, Martin and Kurt Busch, all between 300-400 points back.

Then you would have seen a large group of eight drivers all 600-800 points behind Johnson. Notice Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, despite missing the Chase, outscored Vickers and Kasey Kahne by enough points to knock them out of the top 12 in points. Vickers did so poorly in the final 10 races of the year that he would have finished 16th overall had there not been a Chase reset.

3) If we ran the Chase without any bonus points for wins, we would have seen an almost-identical final standings. The only differences would have been swaps for 6th and 7th and 10th and 11th. As we’ve seen in past years, Chase bonus points are almost entirely meaningless and not worth fighting for.

4) If you gave one point for every place (so a win equals 43 points, and a last-place finish equals one point), then we would have seen the standings here:

Basically, you can estimate by taking each driver’s average finish. Then take 44 minus that number. So an average finish of 15 is like average points per race of 29. Multiply that number times 36 races and you get your total. Jeff Gordon would have been the champion in these standings. Again, Stewart and Johnson would have joined him as the best of this year’s drivers.

(All Left Turns contributor Dale Watermill is the creator of the Watermill Score and the FLOPPER Award and edits the racing statistics blog 36 Races. E-mail him at

Related links:
Drivers with momentum entering 2010
Replacing crew chief did not help Junior
Congratulations to Paul Menard, your 2009 FLOPPER Award winner
Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards
Chase bonus points are meaningless
Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season
The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title