CHARLOTTE _ As expected, NASCAR Chairman Brian France announced Wednesday evening changes to the point system used to determine series champions in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
Scrapping the much-complicated system used for decades, NASCAR will now award points at the end of a race on a 43 to 1 basis with the winner receiving 43 points, decreasing in one point increments per position. Those drivers that lead a lap will receive one bonus point, the driver that leads the most laps will receive a one-point bonus and the winner will also get three points for the win.
Let’s break this down a little bit – if a driver wins the race and leads the most laps, he will earn a total of 48 points; 43 for first + 1 for leading a lap + 1 for leading the most laps + 3 bonus points for winning = 48 points.
“So now everyone will know, when a driver is down by 10 points, that he needs to pass 11 more cars to take the lead in the point standings,” France explained. “Very much a simple, easy to understand system for us.”
In addition to the change to the system of awarding points, NASCAR has also altered who will qualify for the 10-race Chase that determines the series champion. After the 26-race regular season, the top-10 drivers in the standings will automatically become part of the Chase.
Unlike in years past, the two drivers with the most wins outside of the top-10, but inside the top-20 will become the final two “wild card” spots. If no driver outside the top-10 has a win or if there is a tie for most wins, NASCAR will revert to using points to determine the final two Chase drivers.
Once the Chase field is determined, the top-10 will be reset according to their wins (3 points for each), while the two “wild card” drivers will remain 11th and 12th.
“This puts emphasis on winning, even if you've had some bad luck,” France said. “As an example, last year Jamie McMurray raced hard, collected two big wins during the regular season, Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400. He didn't qualify for the Chase.
“In 2009, Kyle Busch, he had four wins in the regular season. He didn't qualify in the race for the Chase.
“But under the 2011 format, both drivers would make the Chase and have a chance to compete for the championship,” he added. “And going for the win, especially as we go through Bristol, Atlanta, on to Richmond, is going to create even more excitement and drama.”
Former champion Tony Stewart echoed those comments following the announcement. Talking with members of the media, Stewart explained the wild card element of the Chase will create more excitement because drivers will be more willing to go for broke for wins, especially – as France pointed out – as the schedule inches closer to the final regular season race in Richmond.
Stewart went on to say NASCAR is unlike any other stick-and-ball sport in the fact that in other sports, the champion is ultimately decided by the final game. For that reason, he explained, NASCAR’s system of deciding a champion is always under scrutiny and subject to criticism. Yet for the teams and drivers competing for that championship, Stewart pointed out they will all know what they have to do to win the title.
As a driver that has competed in a wide variety of racing series throughout the world, Stewart explained every racing series has an immensely complicated system. In his opinion, the changes put in place for the 2011 season simplify the process and sets NASCAR apart from any other racing series.
In announcing these changes, both France and NASCAR president Mike Helton, indicated the fans have asked for more of an emphasis on winning and, while this might not be a drastic leap, the sanctioning body is making a steady march in that direction.
For Stewart, however, that march towards a greater emphasis on winning versus consistency is something he is not entire in favor of.
“I think there’s been too much emphasis put on winning versus teams that have to work hard for 36 races,” the former champion explained. “Under this format, we still have to win a championship (by) being good for 10 races. I don’t think there should be too much emphasis put on it (winning).”
Addressing the issue of wins versus consistency, Helton explained the lengthy season has to be a factor in rewarding the consistency of a team over 36 races and by providing too many points for wins has the potential to disrupt the balance between the two.
“There's a line where if you had too much on wins then it's all about…it could be wrapped up first two or three races in the Chase, and it's over with,” Helton said. “So that's why I keep saying…we could do anything we wanted to do within reason. But we choose to balance winning with the continuity of a long season. Now with the Chase model, we have to balance winning with the 10-race stretch to the championship. That's why we've come up with these numbers.”
Since the Chase was implemented in 2004, there have been changes to the number of drivers included and the bonus points awarded for races won in the regular season. Despite the changes and close titles races the Chase has often produced, fans continue to voice their displeasure over the system and the constant changes to the sport.
With this dramatic change to the points, will fans be able to put their worries to ease and remain confident NASCAR will not change things down the road? Not so fast.
“The fundamentals of what we do are still the same. It's race cars on racetracks,” Helton said. “But everybody, including NASCAR, in every form of entertainment, every form of sports, has to keep working on elements to stay relevant and to grow and to maintain, I guess, its opportunity against a changing marketplace or a changing environment or a changing generation.”
So if altering the Chase, the points or something along those lines is what is needed to stay relevant, do not expect NASCAR to sit on its hands. Yet, it seems fans – especially those long-time fans – seem to want some sort of consistency from NASCAR. Perhaps with these major changes, it is time to let them play out in this format for a few seasons before attempting any further alterations.
NASCAR also announced a number of other changes to the sport for the 2011 season ranging from new qualifying procedures to a revision to the tire rules in place each weekend.
For the 2011 season, the qualifying order for each series will be based upon practice speeds, slowest to fastest. The top-35 cars will be grouped together, while the go-or-go-home cars will also be grouped together.
In the case of inclement weather, NASCAR will abandon using the owner standings to set the field. Instead, the starting line-up will be determined by practice speeds. If rain does not allow for any practice or qualifying, then NASCAR will revert to the owner standings.
Sprint Cup Series teams will also be limited to five sets of tires for practice and qualifying, as opposed to the six sets allowed in 2010. The teams are required to return four of those sets to Goodyear to be provided with their race day tires.
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