NASCAR's point system is onto something good. It's not perfect, but it's onto something.
Even though Jimmie Johnson has earned enough points to coast into this year's Chase, he showed up Sunday at Michigan International Speedway ready to play. This was no late-season coast job, where you rest your starters in preparation for the postseason. This race still meant something, even to Johnson.
NASCAR seeds its playoffs based on wins, so it behooves (yes, behooves) Johnson to still bring his A-game. It's a good system because it provides incentive to keep trying all the way through the last lap of the regular season, no matter how far ahead you are in the standings.
But there is a flaw.
While Johnson had every reason to go all out on Sunday, he also didn't have any reason not to. If he won, he improved his playoff seeding; anything worse, he stood pat.
From my perspective, there's not much sport – defined here as having something on the line – involved here. And NASCAR being a sport and all, that's probably not a good thing.
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This is why a better points system would be 1) to make all wins worth 50 to 100 points more than finishing second and 2) to seed the Chase based on final regular-season standing.
With victories worth more, drivers who win the most races (see Mark Martin) won't be in danger of missing the Chase. And because a 100-point swing could go a long way in moving you up a spot or three in the standings, this points system would maintain the incentive to race through the last lap of the regular season and would prevent some drivers (see Juan Pablo Montoya) from points-racing.
As it is, giving 10 bonus points per regular-season win not only strips away some of the suspense; it also leaves in danger those who actually win the most.
NASCAR's point system is pretty good but could be better.
On to the mailbag:
Thoughts from Michigan
Jay, what was NASCAR's excuse for not penalizing J.J. for jumping ahead of Vickers on the last restart … aside from the fact that he is Jimmie Johnson?
That was the second restart that Johnson jumped out on the leader. The first time you can argue was because the first place driver spun his tires, but that still should have been a warning. This one was blatant.
If NASCAR is going to make the rule, they need to enforce it for everybody, yes, even J.J.
At Michigan, Dale Earnhardt Jr. carded his first top-five finish since April.
On a side note, it was a thrill to finally see the light go on in Junior's head and see a competitive spirit again. The fact that he was not happy with a third-place finish speaks volumes. He had a taste of the lead, liked it, drove his ass off to try and get the lead again but came just short.
Without a title to race for, dare I say, he could get 1 or 2 wins this season to give his team momentum heading into next year.
I received more emails asking about that restart than anything else. Here's what NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston had to say about it: "This happens from time to time and we give the driver the chance to give back the position which the 48 [did] by Turn 2."
I have to side with NASCAR on this one. Johnson did jump the start, but as Poston points out, he did slow down to give up the lead. That's the protocol of what you're supposed to do if you jump the start, and that's exactly what Johnson did.
As for Junior, I've got to see more than one solid run, especially in a fuel-mileage race, before concluding he's making some gains. You're right, though: It is good to see a driver not be content with a third-place finish.
Isn't there some guy named Busch who carries that same attitude?
After Sunday's race, I don't want to hear any whining about NASCAR's unfair points system should Mark Martin fail to make the chase. On a day when he needed to notch a solid finish to help secure a Chase birth, Martin's team made a ridiculous decision to gamble on fuel and it ended up costing him. That's not the point systems fault, it's the fault of the No. 5 team.
Martin gets rewarded with points for wins like any other driver. Inconsistency should not be rewarded, no matter how much some fans clamor for it.
Martin's crew chief Alan Gustafson immediately took the blame for that decision – one that, if Mark doesn't make the Chase, could cost him his last best shot at winning a championship.
I have one word for the fuel mileage races "BORING". A competition yellow for fuel with 27 laps to go will force these drivers and teams to race for the win.
A ways back, Michael Chang was playing Ivan Lendl in the French Open final. By the time they got to the fifth set, Chang's legs were absolutely shot. The cramps were so bad dude couldn't even run. Unable to rally with Lendl, Chang had to figure out another way to win. What he came up with was a series of drop shots, lobs and spin serves that frustrated Lendl to the point of breaking. On no legs, Chang wound up winning that fifth set and the French Open title.
My point in bringing this up is this: Sport isn't always about being the best. It's about finding a way to win. In racing, this means wrenching a good car into a great one midrace; it means taking two tires instead of four; and sometimes it even means pedaling the accelerator just enough to stay in front, but not too much to use up all your fuel.
Strategy is always part of the game. I say embrace it.
Junior speaks out
Jay, Robin Pemberton says "We've had discussions with the teams and things like that, and we feel like the racing is as good as it's ever been – better than it's been."
Apparently Robin doesn't read your Mailbag or readers' Your Turn and it's blatantly apparent that the big whigs in NASCAR care nothing about what the fans want anymore. It's pretty bad when fans have been screaming for better racing for well over a couple years now and NASCAR continues to tell us that everything is great.
I'm here to tell ya Robin – The racing is some of the WORST it's ever been!!!
I HATE when people complain about a driver being "whiny" especially when that driver (Dale Jr.) is standing up and calling out NASCAR for better racing. Come on people. Jr. is trying to make racing better for us all! Call it what you will but I wanna say thanks to Dale Jr. for not being afraid to call out the NASCAR mafia!
First off, I take with a grain of salt the complaint emails I get because people with gripes tend to be a lot more vocal than those who are content.
That said, I've seen the product on the track and Dale Jr. is right – it could be better.
The message I hope people like Robin Pemberton and Mike Helton take from Junior (and others who aren't satisfied) is that NASCAR fans have high expectations. We know NASCAR produces the tightest racing in the world, but that doesn't automatically make it worth watching.
Last call …
Hey Jay – I'm going to offer a prediction: You'll get a third as much hate mail about the Michigan Race this weekend as you did about the last Fontana Race, even though they are sister tracks.
I'm in no way defending Auto Club Speedway. However, the NASCAR community has an irrational hatred of California that drives me nuts.