Potential new points system doesn’t add up

At a time when NASCAR should (and insists it wants to) reward winning more, it appears it could be heading in the exact opposite direction.

Yes, the structure of awarding 43 points to the winner of a 43-car race on down to one point to the last-place finisher simplifies things. But in doing so it devalues race wins while at the same time increases the penalty for, say, having an engine blow.

Let me explain.

Under the current format, a winning driver is awarded 185 points, second place gets 170. In this case, winning is worth 8.1 percent more (170 is 91.9 percent of 185) than finishing second. Under a 1-to-43 points format, winning would only be worth 2.3 percent more than finishing second (43 points vs. 42).

Conversely, if a driver finishes 43rd because of a mechanical failure, under the current format he would earn 34 points – or 18.4 percent of first place. Using a 1-to-43 scale, said driver’s one point earned would be worth just 2.3 percent of the winner’s total.

Brian France's stated goal is for NASCAR to generate more "Game 7" moments.
Getty

NASCAR will likely add a bonus for winning which, if it does, should be at least four points to ensure that winning a race is not worth less. It should be at least five points if NASCAR continues to give a bonus for leading a lap.

But even if the powers that be do make winning worth 47 or 48 points, that doesn’t address the issue of the DNF. In fact, a 1-to-43 points scale would actually increase the potential impact one blown engine or crash would have on a championship contender’s hopes.

Let’s play this backward.

A year ago, Jimmie Johnson won five of the first 17 races of the season, yet under a 1-to-43 format he would have barely qualified for the Chase. Four DNFs – three crashes and a broken axle – in the first 18 races would have put Johnson in such a deep hole that had he had even one more mechanical issue or hadn’t finished third-third in the final two races of the regular season, he would have missed the Chase.

While that may be music to the ears of Johnson haters, no driver with five wins should ever be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.

NASCAR could remedy this by awarding everyone who finishes 35th or lower eight points, thus diminishing the impact of a negative that could be entirely out of a driver’s control.

Regardless, the opinion here is that scrapping the current points system entirely is unnecessary, especially when the only perceivable benefit of a 1-to-43 format is to make it easier to memorize how many points first and last place are worth.

Tweaking the current points system, however, is necessary, and it should start with rewarding wins more. Winning a race should be worth at least 210 points – or 20 percent more than finishing second. Not only would this encourage drivers to race for the win but would provide a bump for those who, before and after, wreck trying.

This last part is no small point.

Two years ago, Kyle Busch raced Tony Stewart to the checkered flag at Daytona only to end up on Kasey Kahne’s roof. Busch went from finishing second, at worst, to 14th and lost 61 points in the process. Eight weeks later, Busch fell eight points shy of missing the Chase.

Had he played it safe at Daytona, Busch would have made the Chase, but the show wouldn’t have been nearly as good. That’s not what NASCAR needs.

What it does need is drivers racing for wins, not security. But to encourage that, NASCAR has to give them enough of an incentive to make it worth the risk. As it stands, it’s not, and swapping out the current points system for a 1-to-43 scale is a move in the wrong direction.

Jay Hart is a Senior Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jay a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011