NASCAR CEO Brian France announced on Wednesday night that the sport will adopt a new points structure to chart the performance of drivers in all three of its national touring series.
France also announced revisions for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the 10-race playoff implemented in 2004 to crown the series champion.
At its core, the new points system will award 43 points to the driver finishing first and each position following will decrease one point in value. The 43rd and last-place finisher will receive one point.
Race winners will receive three bonus points for a win under the new structure, lap leaders will receive a one-point bonus and the driver leading the most laps will gain one additional point.
Considering a race winner must, by definition, lead the last lap, winning a race will be worth a minimum of 47 points.
If the driver leads the most laps, he'll take home 48 markers.
The new points structure replaces the Latford system, named for NASCAR historian and CBS statistician Bob Latford. It has been used by NASCAR since 1975.
The most recent incarnation of the Latford system awarded 185 points for a win, 170 for second and decreased the points award five markers for each position through sixth.
Positions sixth through 11th decreased four points each, and from 11th through the remainder of the field the positions decreased three points in value.
The driver finishing 43rd and last was awarded 34 points.
All lap leaders in a race received five points and the one driver leading the most received five additional points.
The system has received criticism in recent years because of its complexity, a concern that France hopes is addressed by the change.
"The most important reason is simplicity. This allows us a way to communicate the standings," France said.
"All motorsports have complicated formulas to add up to tracking the standings. This gives us a straightforward way to do that."
Last Friday, Mike Helton acknowledged that even those inside the sport have occasionally had trouble with the system: “Even for us we have to occasionally go to the rule book and look at what position got what points.”
The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup also will undergo changes for this season.
After the first 26 races of the season, contenders for the championship are separated from the rest of the competitors via a points reset and run the last 10 races for the title.
NASCAR’s version of the playoffs will maintain its field of 12 drivers for 2011, but include the top 10 in points and the top two winners in the series not ranked in the top 10 in points after the fall race at Richmond.
The drivers qualified in through wins must be in the top 20 in Sprint Cup points.
The drivers making the Chase will be reset to 2,000 points, with three points added to their total for each win during the 26-race regular season. The two drivers qualified into the Chase field on wins will start the Chase as the 11th and 12th seeds, regardless of their win totals.
There has been speculation over the last several weeks that NASCAR may elect to expand the Chase field to as many as 15 drivers or implement some sort of elimination format as the Chase works its way across the last 10 races of the schedule.
The Chase has become one of the most polarizing aspects of the Sprint Cup Series in the last decade.
Some fans have embraced its playoff feel and cited that the Chase prevents the championship from being clinched early.
Others have disapproved, claiming that the Sprint Cup should be a season-long achievement earned over the entire span of the 36-race schedule, as opposed to a 26-race regular season and the 10-race playoff.
Currently, ESPN holds the rights to broadcast the Chase. In 2009, the races appeared on both ESPN and ABC, but were all moved to ESPN for the 2010 season.
The network saw ratings drop for its portion in the second half of the season last year, a trend that presented itself throughout the 2010 campaign, despite the close competitiveness of the Chase.
Eventual champion Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick all had a shot at the Sprint Cup championship headed to the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway in Florida.
Back in November, an ESPN executive told Yahoo Sports that the network would advocate a change to ensure the same competition as 2010.
“If there was a way – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be elimination – to ensure that this type of drama happens every year in the Chase, where the emphasis on winning is enhanced throughout the Chase, then that’s certainly something we would support,” said Julie Sobieski, an ESPN vice president.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as the sport has seen on overall decline in popularity, signified by declining television ratings and sagging in-person attendance over the last several seasons.
The difficult economic climate has largely been blamed for the attendance drop, but NASCAR has struggled to find a cause for the decline in ratings.
The television ratings are the largest influence in the price the sanctioning body can ask for when negotiating the rights to broadcast the races with the networks.
FOX broadcasts the first portion of the season, and as recently as this week FOX Sports Chairman David Hill told scenedaily.com’s Bob Pockrass that he would like to see shorter events.
“I think a lot of the races are too long. I think probably three hours would be ideal.”
FOX and ABC/ESPN’s current contracts with NASCAR run through 2014.
Over the last several years, NASCAR has implemented several changes designed to increase interest and address the concerns of fans about the sport.
The Chase format, standardized start times, double-file restarts and the green, white, checker finishes have all come along since 2004 to enhance competition and make the sport more appealing to fans.
Just last week, NASCAR confirmed that it would force drivers to declare the one championship for which they would compete.
The move is designed to prevent the practice of “Buschwacking,” the practice of Sprint Cup drivers competing on a regular basis for the Nationwide Series championship.
Originally, the Nationwide Series was a feeder series for developing talent to prepare for the Sprint Cup Series.
Over the last five years, a Sprint Cup interloper has captured the title on the junior circuit.
In total, the changes represent a radical alteration to NASCAR's look in the last decade.
The 2011 Sprint Cup season begins with the Budweiser Shootout on February 12th.
The first points race of the season is the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 on February 20th.
Read reaction to the new points system: One and Done In the Chase