With the way the Sprint Cup points are earned, it can be easy to lose track of the big picture. In this post, I look at a couple of ways to visualize point accumulation so that it doesn’t seem so cumbersome. I consider two approaches: 1.) Total points 2.) Points per race (PPR) average across all 36 races.

I considered the top 20 drivers in points all year, and I did not count the Chase reset of points. What you see are the actual total points each driver earned. No artificial additives here.

In the first table, points are color-coded by each set of 1,000. I also boxed the 12th-place points during the season, as well as the 26th race, to give you reference points.

We notice many interesting things:

1) Only three drivers earned 5,000 points this year. You can match them up with the final standings, if you like.

2) The points leader can hit new 1,000-point levels every six to eight races while the 20th-place driver only gets there every 10 races or so.

3) Notice the leader got to 2,000 by race 14. It took until race 20 for everybody else to get above 2,000 points. And at that same race, the leader had just passed 3,000.

The horizontal number is place in the standings and the vertical number is the race.

Now take a look at the PPR progression during the season. Here the colors reference each 10 points-per-race average.

When you look at it in terms of average points per race, the differences between drivers are much more subtle.

Consider that the end-of-year difference between 7th and 14th in points is only a measly five points per race.

They key to being a contender for the title hunt is to move out of the 120s range and into the 130s. The superstars are averaging 140s during the season. Remember, eighth place gets 142 points in a race, and ninth place gets 138. So an average of 140 isn’t that hard to do if you can finish on the lead lap and avoid mistakes and wrecks. That consistency each race turns into a huge points gap by the end, as we see in the first table.

Notice 12th place in the points column is around 117-121 points per race during the season, except right before the Chase cutoff, when the average moved up to 123 points per race. Kyle Busch even said he thought he needed just 3,160 points to make the Chase. But the competition got so heated by that point that even his 3,195 didn’t make it. Nobody accounted for the averages picking up so much.

Last year only two drivers made it above 5,000 points, and 20th place was consistently BELOW 100 PPR. This year we saw more points in that department, probably because of all the start-and-park guys guaranteeing higher finishes for everybody else.

(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:
Montoya and Stewart have more in common than huge egos
How the 2009 season would have ended using different point systems
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