On Wednesday evening, NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France and most of NASCAR's brass took to the stage at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to unveil sweeping new changes to the sport's point structure. France indicated that it should place more of an emphasis on winning, but that's not necessarily the case.
While winning has about the same benefits in the regular season, if a driver wants to get into the Chase, winning becomes very important indeed.
Starting with the Daytona 500 in just a few weeks, the new point structure will go as follows: the winner of the race will receive 43 points, second place will receive 42 points, and so on down to the last-place finisher, who will receive one point.
"When a driver is down by 10 points, he needs to pass 11 cars to take the lead in the standings," France said. "It's much more simplified."
Bonus points will be awarded for winning the race (3 points), leading a lap (1 point) and leading the most laps (1 point). What this does, in effect, is award a minimum of a four-point bonus to the winner of a race.
Under the old system, the winner received 185 points, the second-place finisher received 170 points, and so on down in a non-linear fashion. Drivers received five points each for leading a lap and for leading the most laps; thus, in effect, five points for winning the race. (Race winners who made the Chase would receive a 10-point bonus within the Chase.)
Percentage-wise, the differential between the systems is virtually nonexistent. If, say, the winner received 47 points (43 + 3 + 1), the second-place finisher (without leading any laps) would have about 89.36 percent of the winner's total. Under the old system, the winner received 190 points (185 + 10), while the second-place finisher (without leading any laps) had 89.47 percent of the winner's total. In other words, there's no real new advantage to winning in the points structure, no matter what NASCAR says.
However, what the new system can do is penalize a driver sharply for having, say, an early-race engine failure or wreck. Making up ground will be difficult ... which is where the new Chase qualification system comes into play.
The top 10 Chase members will get in on points, but the "wild cards" will go to drivers ranked 11-20 with the most wins. What this does is give drivers who have had problems early in the season the opportunity to catch up ... but only if they win.
"Going for the win, especially as we go through Bristol, Atlanta, and on through to Richmond [in the fall], is going to create even more drama," France said.
The prevailing theme at the press conference was one of optimism. Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III noted that ticket sales in 2011 are up 30 percent over the same time last year, a good sign that last year's down-to-the-wire Chase may have brought a few fans back into the fold.
Chitwood also noted once again that the iconic Daytona International Speedway has been completely repaved, a brand-new surface ready for its first competition. NASCAR's officials, teams, drivers and fans can only hope that the sport itself starts equally fresh and fast in 2011.
Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.