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NASCAR contimplating change in points system?


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By Chris Jenkins, USA TODAY



New points system or not?


After years of fierce resistance to change, NASCAR suddenly is in fast forward. There have been significant safety advances since the February 2001 death of icon Dale Earnhardt, there are plans to move races from small media markets to big markets for the benefit of billion-dollar TV partners and a more politically correct series sponsor is on the way.


Should the points system, the brainchild of recently deceased racing historian Bob Latford, be next in line?


Outside of Ricky Craven's fender-banging victory against Busch at Darlington Raceway this season, there haven't been many close finishes in the last few years. Some of that is the result of NASCAR's efforts to make the cars equal, which has made it harder for drivers to pass each other. But there also is private concern in NASCAR's Daytona Beach, Fla., headquarters that some drivers are becoming content with top-10 finishes. Why try a risky pass for the lead when the second-place finisher sometimes gets the same number of points as the winner?


"I think the system has worked well," Jimmie Johnson says. "It's good the way it is. But I would like to see the winner rewarded a little more over second place."


The winner of a NASCAR race gets 175 points, and second place gets 170. Any driver who leads a lap gets five bonus points, and the driver who leads the most laps gets an additional five bonus points. If the second-place finisher leads the most laps, he and the race winner both get 180 points. That happened to Jimmie Johnson at California Speedway last season, when Busch finished second but led the most laps.


"We both earned the same amount of points, yet I won the race," Johnson said. "In that case, I think there should be a little bit more of a separation between first and second or someplace there in the top three or top five. When you have 36 races, I think rewarding on consistency is the way to structure things, but I think we could use a little bit more separation at the top five."


Asked what racing might be like if there were more of a points incentive to win, Waltrip points to The Winston, NASCAR's yearly all-star race. No points are awarded, and prize money is heavily slanted toward the winner. "What do you see? No holds barred," Waltrip says. "That tells you what it would be like with no points."


Would that be better? "It'd be better for me," Waltrip jokes, knowing he'd have a lot more to talk about.


Another oddity: NASCAR's points system is far more generous to midpack finishers than other major racing series. In NASCAR, the 15th-place finisher gets 118 points — only a 33% drop-off from the winner. In the Indy Racing League, the first-place finisher gets 50 points and the 15th-place finisher gets 15, a 60% drop-off. CART awards points only to top-12 finishers, and Formula One awards points only to the top eight.


A gradually decreasing number of points is awarded all the way down to last place in NASCAR, encouraging drivers who have wrecked to have their crews fix their cars and return to the track to gain a few points. As long as they can circle the track at a minimum speed, officials allow them to continue racing. Robby Gordon's car was damaged in an accident at Daytona in July. His crew fixed the car and he went back on the track, but his hood flew off into the grandstands and injured a woman.


"I do have a problem with the way it pays points all the way back to 43rd and that we have to go back out there with these wrecked race cars and ride around at a minimum speed," Jeff Gordon says. "What is the reason for that? It's no fun for anybody. It's not fun for the teams to put those cars back out there. It's not fun for the drivers. And I don't think the fans want to see those cars ride around. I know the competitors don't like it because you're in the way."


Drivers who don't race, of course, don't get any points. If a driver misses a race, he stands almost no chance of winning the championship. "We're putting such an emphasis on the points championship that it overrides everything," Waltrip says. "It overrides good judgment for getting in the car when you shouldn't. It overrides putting the car back on the track when you shouldn't. You're jeopardizing a lot of things because of points."


Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications, says the points system is always subject to review. "I think there are some tweaks to the points system that might be helpful, and we'll look at those," Hunter says.


Many drivers don't want to see changes, including the man on top. "I think the points system is pretty good," Kenseth says. "Even last year people asked me because we won five races and finished eighth in the points, they thought that was so terrible. I think that's good. I remember the years Rusty Wallace would win 10 races, but he would blow up in 10 races. Well, that's not the sign of a championship team. A championship team doesn't come in and finish first 10 times and finish last 10 times because their equipment wasn't reliable and they all didn't do their job.


"I think the sign of a championship team is it's not just about the driver or just about winning one or two races on a Sunday, it's about putting together a whole season of nine months — or whatever it is — and not dropping out of races and not crashing and how bad your bad days are. I don't think it's right in a series that long to have it where a guy can go out and win one week and the next week he can crash and finish last and still win it. I think it has to be built on consistency and how good of a job everybody did at the shop and at the race track all year."


What current points would look like depending on changes made.

alternate points

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