NASCAR Points Restructure: 10 Reasons Not To Change Systems
NASCAR is considering another tweak to its championship structure.
Actually, it's more than a tweak.
The much talked about possible move to a new points system has been the talk of the sport for the last week.
The new system reportedly would award 43 points for first place and each descending position in the finishing order would decrease one point in value.
There's no word yet on what sort of bonus points structure would accompany the points system, so there's no way to know how the change will impact the sport.
But is it really worth changing?
Here's a look at a few reasons why NASCAR should leave its points system alone.
The points system in use today is called the Latford system.
It is named for Bob Latford, who was a long-time public relations official and historian with NASCAR.
The system was created and first used in the 1975 season and served the sport well with only minor revisions until the Chase for the Sprint Cup was created in 2004.
Thirty-five seasons of NASCAR have been gauged with this points system, and it was used to crown some of NASCAR's most illustrious champions.
Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon and Stewart all won titles using the Latford format.
2. Historical Comparisons
Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace are just two of the champions who earned their titles under the Latford system.
For the last several years, it hasn't been hard to find a chart on the internet that tells you what would happen in a Chase season if there wasn't a Chase in place.
You can also find charts to tell you what would happen in seasons before the Chase if there was one in place.
This means there would have to be a third comparison: Latford with the Chase, Latford without and the 43-1 system.
The more revisions made to the championship format, the more difficult it becomes to compare current champions from the guys who came before them.
3. Position Value
The rules say the cars are equal, but we all know they're not.
For a Sprint Cup race, there are 43 cars in the field, and there's a vast divide in equipment quality from the back to the front.
The cars and drivers occupying the top five or 10 positions are generally the class of the field every week.
That's how they got there in the first place.
One of the beauties of the Latford system is that it recognizes the disparity between front running cars and cars in the back.
There is a five-point margin between positions in the top five, four points between the sixth and 10th positions, and three points difference from 11th back.
It's harder to pass up front since the cars and drivers are just better. Bob Latford knew that. Passing two cars for fourth and third place is worth 10 points on the sheet. Passing two cars for 14th and 13th is worth six.
The going gets a lot tougher near the top. There should be a reward for that.
4. Why Does It Have To Be Simple?
In a news conference on Friday, Kevin Harvick revealed that after last season he got a message from Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi congratulated Harvick on his season, but then revealed his confusion.
"I don't understand how you have the best year and not win. I don't understand your points system."
A lot of casual baseball fans don't understand the intricacies of strategy that goes into winning ball games day after day, but it hasn't turned people off.
Every sport has complex aspects to it.
Icing seems complex if you don't follow hockey every day, ineligible receivers downfield don't jump out at you if you aren't familiar with football and in golf there are countless rules for infinite situations that happen when a ball is launched 300 yards down a fairway.
But casual fans of those sports still watch, don't they?
NASCAR, like just about any professional sport, has its complexities and quirks. Dumbing it down doesn't make it better.
The NFL has done fine without awarding two points for a touchdown and one for a field goal.
5. Simple Doesn't Mean Popular
NASCAR enjoyed an unprecedented boom in popularity throughout the 1990s.
A points change didn't do it.
In the 90s, NASCAR employed the Latford system and had yet to create the Chase.
Instead, many new fans came to the sport to see a driver who reached out of the traditional fan base and brought them in.
That was Jeff Gordon.
Despite what you may think of Gordon, he helped grow the sport by bringing in new demographics. His on-track rivalry with Dale Earnhardt offered a compelling story almost every week.
Their championship battles were decided with the Latford system.
6. NASCAR Isn't Gaining Fans By Changing the Points
Think about this question for a moment.
Did anyone you know say to you last week: "I heard NASCAR may change its points system. I may start watching this year."
You probably didn't hear that.
NASCAR is preaching to the converted by trying to implement this change. The largest portion of the fan base was around before there was even a Chase. They've been around the system for years.
Many of then remember when it was implemented.
Nobody is coming to the sport in 2011 based on a revised points system.
7. What Is NASCAR Chasing?
The current Sprint Cup points system isn't that difficult to follow.
When you turn on a football game, you don't know the score until you look at the scoreboard.
Changing the points system makes it easy for you to find out where your guy finished, but not relative to everyone else.
The scoring pylon at a NASCAR track gives you running position of every car on the track. Just add a loop to that—instead of giving the running position, just indicate points as they run.
ESPN used the running scoring to great effect in the season finale at Homestead, and fans at home could see the ebb and flow of the points as each driver advanced or fell through the field.
If fans could see that ebb and flow more and see how the points change, it might not seem so mysterious.
8. Latford 101
If you're not familiar with NASCAR's scoring system, here it is in a nutshell.
Winning a race is worth 185 points, second is worth 170.
From second to sixth, the points drop five points per position.
From the sixth place total (150) to 11th place, they drop four each, and they drop three each all the way through the field from 11th to 43rd.
Everyone who leads during the race gets five extra points and the one driver who leads the most gets five more.
By definition, to win a race you must lead the last lap (all laps are scored at their conclusion), so the winner will get at least 190 points: 185 points for the win, five for leading that last lap.
If he leads the most laps, he can maximize his points award at 195: 185 for the win, five for leading and five for leading the most.
If you can make it to work every day and remember how to get home, that shouldn't be hard.
9. New System Could Cause Sandbagging
Kevin Harvick and his team consistently were among the best cars in the race every week last year.
Under the traditional Latford before the Chase, he would have cruised to his first Sprint Cup title.
His Achilles' heel last season was qualifying.
The cars he's passing near the back are worth the same amount of points as a guy who is making the same number of passes near the front with the proposed system.
With the Latford system, you had to pass more than three guys running outside the top 10 to earn as many points as a guy who passes two cars in the top five.
Three guys outside the top 10 are worth nine points gained from the start of the race, two guys in the top five passed are worth 10.
Mired back in the field working over the backmarkers shouldn't be as big a points award per pass as a guy who is up on the wheel passing top five cars.
10. NASCAR Needs Some Stability
When teams set up the race car, they never throw too many changes at the car at once.
It's difficult to isolate what's working and what's slowing you down when the car has too many variables in play. They make one change, see how it works and then move to something else.
It's a lesson the sport should take to heart.
NASCAR has made multiple changes in the last few years.
The Car of Tomorrow, the Chase, double file restarts, green-white-checker finish, then multiple green-white-checker finishes, Chase reset points and Chase expansion are just a few.
The sport is throwing a lot of different things at the competition and it's hard to say what's working and what's slowing NASCAR down.
Maybe it's just time to let the sport settle for a while and let the fans get comfortable with the product again.
Fans came to the sport in droves when it got widespread television coverage at the start of the 1980s, and they came again in the 1990s when the Jeff Gordon phenomenon happened.
The sport didn't do anything but just be itself.
The Latford system is one of its quirks. We've all got 'em and so does every other sport.