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New points system a good first step

2/1/2011 - NASCAR

After having a week to digest the changes, research the math and contemplate the new points system, I see the good, the bad, the ugly and the flaws of where this plan will take NASCAR.

I hit NASCAR pretty hard when the official announcement came last week, but after further review, I asked myself one key question:

Is this system better than the old one?

Yes, it is. The plan has many of the same problems the old one had, but it is a small step in the right direction.

So let's carefully take a detailed look at what it is and what it could have been:

The good

Simplicity: The 43/1 format is pretty simple. That's great. I'm no math major.

It's much easier to understand than the old plan, which was based on a maximum of 195 points. It decreased by five points or four points or three points, depending on where a driver finished. It was a convoluted mess.

The new plan is one point between each position, excluding bonus points for leading laps. But it's clear how many spots a driver needs to make up on the guy he needs to catch.

Chase wild cards: A big step in the right direction to award the final two playoff spots based on races won. Call it the Jamie McMurray Rule. He won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 last year but didn't make the Chase.

A driver who wins two races in the first 26 events, but ranks 15th, belongs in the Chase just as much as the guy in 10th place who hasn't won a race. Winning is the main goal and should be rewarded.

The bad

Not enough points for winning a race: NASCAR had a golden opportunity to do the right thing here and blew it. The driver who wins should receive at least 25 percent more points than the person who finishes second.

If the second-place finisher leads the most laps, the winner outscores him by only three points, which is less than 7 percent.

That's just a pat on the head, not a worthy acknowledgement of the accomplishment. But it's basically the same as it was in the previous system.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said last week they didn't want to award too many points for winning because a driver could win the first three Chase events and the playoff drama would be over.

Not necessarily, if someone else won the next three. But let's assume he's right. So what? If a driver wins the Chase because he wins the most races, good for him. He deserves it.

If a driver wins the playoff because he finished sixth every week, but another guy won four races and crashed three times, give me the guy who won races.

The ugly

Bonus points on leading laps: NASCAR should have eliminated this completely. It's rewarding points for something that just doesn't matter, and it doesn't go with the theme of simplicity.

The new system awards one point for leading a lap and one for leading the most laps. Any start-and-parker can lead a lap if he stays on the track while 40 cars in front of him pit under caution.

And if a driver leads the first 101 laps of a 200-lap race, but develops handling problems and finishes 25th, why does he deserve two bonus points?

If NASCAR awarded more points for winning -- the most important thing -- it wouldn't need confusing bonus points for things far less important.

Again, this is a wash. Percentage-wise, it's about the same as the old plan.

The flaws

No qualifying points: The only bonus points awarded should come from winning a pole. It would add some much-needed excitement to what often is a boring couple of hours on Friday or Saturday.

Helton said NASCAR considered qualifying points, but opted against it because of possible rainouts that set the field by practice speeds, another rule change.

"We've had that conversation for 25 years," Helton said about qualifying points. "Our position is the points should be earned."

I agree, so don't award any points if qualifying is rained out.

Not enough wild cards: Allowing two race winners into the Chase is great, but why not let in all the winners who finish in the top 20 in the standings? "Win and you're in" as long as you proved worthy by ranking in the top 20.

That could mean at least half a dozen drivers would go to Richmond in September knowing they could make the Chase by winning the event.

DNF disaster: A "did not finish" is a catastrophe. Finishing last in the new format is a bigger penalty than it was in the old one. This is the one area that's worse than the previous format.

If a driver finishes 43rd without leading a lap, the winner receives 47 times as many points as the last-place driver. In the old system, the winner received only 5.6 times as many points.

"Bad days are going to be worse," said Dave Rogers, crew chief for Kyle Busch. "A 43rd-place finish is really going to hurt. In the past, if you finished 43rd you could rattle off some top-5s and make some of that up in a hurry.

"Some of that is going to go away now. But a bad day for me still is no worse than a bad day for Jimmie Johnson."

True, but you will need him to have a really bad day to make up ground.

If a bad finish is a bigger points hit, it forces drivers to race more conservatively. You can't afford to finish 40th. That encourages what no one wants -- points racing.

One solution is to not award points past 25th. A driver is 47 points behind if he finishes 43rd or 26th. But he can make up most of the points if the other driver has one race where he finishes worse than 25th.

No system is perfect and it's impossible to get everyone to agree on all the aspects of any points plan.

But overall this format is a little better than the old one. In NASCAR's world, that's really all you can ask.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.