What's the point in NASCAR's point system?

by Dave Yaeck
January 9, 2004

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Welcome to the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Season. This season is shaping up to be an exciting one with many twists and turns. Today, we were given what could be the biggest twist of them all. NASCAR Vice President of Communications, Jim Hunter announced today that the governing body will go ahead with a proposed change in the Nextel Cup point structure allowing for a 10-race playoff for the top drivers in the 04 Nextel Cup Series after the completion of 26 races which will be at Richmond in the Chevy Rock N Roll 400.

All of the details have not been finalized, but a focal piece of the puzzle was explained today as instead of just the top-10 drivers going off into a playoff type format it will be determined on a difference in points from first place to the determined number that will be announced before the beginning of the season. That number will be based upon the last 28 years of the former point system and it will be between 300 and 600 points, Hunter said today in an interview with NASCAR.com.

He attributes his decision to forge ahead with the new point structure with sagging ratings and races not selling out their venues in the latter part of the 2003 Winston Cup Season as Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 DeWalt Ford led the point standings as much as over 400 points at one time in the season which led for fans to lose interest as there seemed no chance for any other driver to get ahead of Kenseth.

"There's just so much more for NASCAR to compete with in that last third of the season that we don't have the rest of the year," Hunter said.

"We're doing this to draw additional attention to our sport. That's the bottom line." In addition to the restructure of the point system in the final 10 races, there will be more points awarded for winning races and possibly a special point fund set up for the person who wins the most races in a season.

"The balance of winning and consistency has sort of gotten out of whack," Hunter said. "It seems that the consistency factor plays more of a role than winning races. We need to change the format.

But with change comes criticism. When the idea was introduced after the 03 season, most drivers were against it and fans were saying "if it aint broke then don't fix it." With the announcement today the sentiment seemed to be unchanged.

"I don't really want them to change the point system," Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the number 8 Budweiser Chevrolet said today during a press conference at preseason thunder. "It was a good point system that awards the driver with the best average finish." Jaime McMurray, driver of the #42 Havoline Dodge shared the same feeling.

"I think that starting over after 26 races is a bad idea," McMurray said. "It's not fair to the sponsors or the driver that's 11th to 15th in the points that has a shot to get in the top ten when that is what they try to do all year.

Other drivers like Dale Jarrett in the #88 UPS Ford say that it will not change the focus of what they are trying to accomplish week to week and that is to win races.

The fans are equally as disturbed about the change. This writer went to a popular fan based site, and asked some of the fans what their opinion of the points change was.

Jerry, a truck driver from Wisconsin felt that this could end up being compared to the Bowl Championship Series in college football, and lots of money lost due to lack of interest in sponsorship for cars that don't make it into the playoff circle.

Julie from Tennessee and John from Missouri feel that creating a playoff system will disenchant fans that support their favorite driver that does not end up making it into the top ten thus making attendance and viewership suffer.

And Irene from Maryland said, "Let the racers race and let the points take care of themselves." Just as with any NASCAR season beginning, there has to be a sense of suspense in what the year may bring. With the inaugural Nextel Cup series, there will be no difference. Whether you are for or against the new point structure, at least for this season, it's here to stay.

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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