Race Weekend Central

Voices From the Heartland: What if NASCAR’s Emphasis Really WAS on Winning?

As we all know, the whole Chase was brought to us in 2004 as a result of a few key factors – chief among them the simplistic greed of Brian France. France wanted to go head-to-head with the NFL during the fall months of the season. This grand illusion, I’m sure, was hatched long before he was the actual head of NASCAR… probably while he was sitting at his little desk next to his father’s big one. Remember, Brian France was brought up as a marketing man. He knows little about the actual sport over which he now presides… but a lot about how to make money.

So once Brian was allowed to move to the adult desk in the office, all he needed to conduct his experiments on the cash cow that had been handed to him was an “ideal situation.” Well, that ideal situation presented itself in the form of Matt Kenseth’s championship season of 2003.

We all remember the uproar that was created that season when Kenseth, who won only one race all year, bested Ryan Newman by a sizable margin despite Newman’s eight wins. As fans seemed appalled by the unjustness of it all, France seized the moment to implement his “playoff” plan, and told us that the newly formed “Chase” would not only help the sport to be more like traditional ones, but it would place an added emphasis on winning as well.

See also
Happy Hour: Would the Chase Critics Just Shut Up and Go Away? No... We Won't

Back then (like now), I was of the mind that all the Chase did was complicate things that did not need complicating. If you wanted to make things closer at the end of the season and place an emphasis on winning, all you had to do was give the winner a good number of points more for a win than the first loser, right? Case in point is this excerpt that I wrote in March 2004:

The Points System

This is an area that never needed any change. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) comes into play here.

Brought on by Matt Kenseth vs. Ryan Newman during 2003, many felt the system needed revising because Kenseth won only one race while Newman won eight, yet Kenseth was the champion. More emphasis needed to be placed on winning, some felt. I too felt this way at first, so, in my own simple way, I proposed giving the winner 20 more points than second place whilst leaving the rest of the system intact. Surely, I thought, Newman would be the victor.

I (and you may never hear this again) was wrong! After doing the math, Kenseth still came out on top, 5,037 to 4,821. Further analysis of the stats revealed why. Matt had only five finishes of 20th or below, with only two of those being below 35th. Ryan had finished 20th or below 11 times, with seven of those being 35th or lower. Furthermore, while Newman’s average starting position was 6.6, his average finish was 13.9. Kenseth’s starting position averaged 21.3, with his finish averaging 10.2!

Clearly, in my own egotistical mind, Matt was the better racer and was deserving of the trophy. It’s just that when Newman sucked, he REALLY sucked!

Of course, France refused the KISS principle and complicated things further by expanding the Chase to 12 and (again, to place more emphasis on winning) adding five whole points for a victory as opposed to holding back and taking second. Now, here we are in 2009 and, once again, we have a situation where a driver with multiple victories finds himself entirely out of the running for the Cup.

So in the spirit of that first article in 2004, I have once again run some experiments here in my lab and will present you with the results. Keep in mind that these experiments are run strictly under the KISS principle guidelines, and no animals were harmed during them. (except a few flies that were annoying the hell outta me!)

With the Chase system, the current standings as we head to New Hampshire are as follows:

1. Martin (5,040)
2. Stewart (5,030)
3. Johnson (5,030)
4. Hamlin (5,020)
5. Kahne (5,020)
6. Jeff Gordon (5,010)
7. Kurt Busch (5,010)
8. Vickers (5,010)
9. Edwards (5,000)
10. Newman (5,000)
11. Montoya (5,000)
12. Biffle (5,000)

One thing to note is that the drivers in positions nine through 12 have yet to win a race this year. Meanwhile, drivers that do have wins but no hope to win a championship are: Kyle Busch (4), Kenseth (2) and David Reutimann (1).

Now, let’s see how the top 12 positions would shake out employing the KISS principle and using the old points system. Let’s pretend the Chase does not exist and you simply added 50 points more for a win. Here are the results, with points:

1. Stewart (3,956)
2. Johnson (3,684)
3. J. Gordon (3,677)
4. Hamlin (3,591)
5. Martin (3,491)
6. Kyle Busch (3,395)
7. Kahne (3,380)
8. Kurt Busch (3,372)
9. Edwards (3,280)
10. Newman (3,272)
11. Kenseth (3,265)
12. Vickers (3,253)

As you can see, Tony Stewart would still have a 200-plus point lead, but imagine the swing that could take place should he have a bad day during the next 10 races and Jimmie does not! Dropping out of the top 12 are two of the non-winners… Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya.

OK, let’s take it a step further and give a win 100 extra points. Under that scenario, then your top 12 would be:

1. Stewart (4,106)
2. Johnson (3,834)
3. Gordon (3,727)
4. Martin (3,691)
5. Hamlin (3,691)
6. Kyle Busch (3,595)
7. Kahne (3,480)
8. Kurt Busch (3,472)
9. Kenseth (3,365)
10. Vickers (3,303)
11. Edwards (3,280)
12. Newman (3,272)

Outside Top 12: Montoya, Biffle (again)

Now, if you ask me, that last list is about the closest to reality of how those drivers have actually done all year. But remember, with 100 more points awarded for a win over second, the potential for even Newman to win a championship is still there under this system!

What does it all mean? Hell if I know! I do still believe, though, that things didn’t need to get so complicated and controversial in the first place.

If only Brian had gotten a KISS o’gram or something!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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