Daytona is in the rearview mirror, and now the grind begins.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is one of the longest in American pro sports.
There’s one down and 35 to go (plus another all-star weekend).
For those of you who are already thinking about the Chase, like the teams are I’m sure, there are 25 events to get in position for the run to the Championship.
NASCAR’s new points system may make that 25 race stretch a lot more nail biting for some teams.
After the Daytona 500, six of the drivers who made the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup are outside the top 20 in points.
It happens every year when a top contender from the year before has a bad run at Daytona.
This year may be different though.
From the day the new points system was announced last month in Charlotte, the conventional wisdom has been that this new system would severely penalize a bad run thanks in part to non-weighted points.
In the past, depending on where a driver was making passes in the field, the positions were worth different amounts of points.
Each top-five position was worth five more than the one behind it, top-10s worth incrementally four more, and from 11th back the positions dropped three points in value.
Now, it’s one point fits all.
The best place to first test the theory is at the back of the field.
Kevin Harvick finished third in last year’s Sprint Cup standings, and by virtue of his 42nd-place finish in the Daytona 500, he sits 37th in points after week one of 2011.
It could be worse, but thanks to the new rule that allows a driver to collect driver points in only one series, five drivers who finished in front of Harvick in the Daytona 500 are behind him in points with a zero as their points total.
They’re skunked, thanks to a check mark next to anything other than Sprint Cup and their John Hancock on the hard card form.
Harvick collected three at Daytona, he’s in it to win it in the Sprint Cup.
He’s 39 points out of the lead.
So how does this new system really stack up against the old?
Kevin Harvick presents a unique test case.
In 2010, Kevin Harvick was the most consistent driver in the series. Without the Chase and the reset that goes along with it, he would have cruised to his first championship in 2010.
It was evident that he was going to be one of the contenders from the beginning of the season, as he held the points lead in five of the first 10 weeks of the season.
Could the Kevin Harvick that finished 42nd in this year’s Daytona 500 catch the Kevin Harvick that finished seventh in last year’s race and ran to the points lead after race 10?
Surprisingly, both systems pose the same task—almost.
Last year, Harvick scored 156 points in the Daytona 500. He went on to score a total of 1467 points through the first 10 races with a ninth place average finish.
The 42nd-place finisher in the 2010 Daytona 500 was Mike Bliss. He collected 37 points.
What does the 42nd-place finisher at Daytona have to do to catch the points leader by race 10 if the leader runs like Harvick last year?
He has to have a spectacular nine race stretch.
Under the old system, Kevin Harvick scored 1,311 points from the second race to the 10th in 2010.
By virtue of finishing with fewer points at Daytona, to get to the same 10-race total as Harvick in 2010, Mike Bliss would have had to score 1,430 points.
That’s an average of 158.8 points per race. With 158 being an odd number in the old Latford system, you have to move to the finishing position that pays at least 158: fourth place, 160 points.
If Bliss didn’t lead any laps, he would need to score 158 points a race (or finish at least fourth) every time out to catch Harvick.
That’s even in the race where Harvick had his one disaster of the first 10 races at Martinsville where he was laps down with brake issues and came home 35th.
With the new points system, it’s the same deal—at least for the driver who is doing the hunting.
This year, 42nd place pays just two points. Kevin Harvick did manage to get a lap leader bonus before engine trouble took him out, so we’ll throw him his third point for the effort.
Can he catch someone who performs like he did last year?
A driver who mirrors Harvick’s 2010 run through the first 10 races including all the bonus points that Harvick availed himself of last year would score 360 points through the first 10 races.
Harvick’s seventh place finish in 2010 combined with his point for leading a lap and the bonus for leading the most would give him 39 points after Daytona.
That means he scored 321 points in races two through nine.
A 42nd place in the Daytona 500 with the lap leader bonus gives three points, so to match Harvick’s 10 race total he’s got to score 357 points over the next nine races.
That’s 39.66 points per race.
Again, there are no fractions of a point, so he must score at least 40 per race to get there. Without bonus points from leading laps, he’s got to finish at least fourth to get his points.
The guy who finishes 42nd this year has to perform just like the guy in 42nd with the old system in order to catch up.
With this new system though, it’s a rare circumstance when it’s a little better to be the hunted than it was a year ago.
Last year, over the nine race stretch after the Daytona 500, Harvick averaged 145.6 points a race.
Taking away the bonus possibilities which would enable him to finish a little worse, he’s got to score in the 146 point bracket to hold that clip. Under the old system, that was seventh place.
Bonus points allowed Harvick to get those seventh place points per race despite having an average of about ninth place in the races.
Under the new system, to have that same type of lead doesn’t require quite as much work as before.
To have a total of 360 points after race 10 provided he scores 39 in the Daytona 500 (Harvick’s 2010 finish), he’s got to score 35.6 per race to have 360 points 10 races into the season.
After a quick check of the new points payout, he’s got to score in the 36 point bracket. That’s eighth place.
Provided he doesn’t lead a lap or lead the most laps, which would enable him to finish ninth or 10th.
It’s not much race to race, but over the course of nine races that’s nine more spots he has a cushion against being caught by someone who is way behind him.
Harvick had only one run outside the top 15 during the first 10 races of 2010, and under this system he could have more and still hang on to the lead.
While the leader is collecting his top-10s along with a couple of bad runs, the hunter is still frantically trying to run fourth every week.
By the way, Harvick’s average finish last year was 8.7. He was more than three spots better than Carl Edwards, who was second in average finish at 11.8.
Finishing for a fourth place average over nine weeks would be a daunting task for anyone, and while possible on paper, it’s improbable in reality.