Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Erasing NASCAR’s Chase

I can only state the repugnance I feel for NASCAR’s Chase so many times without getting repetitive. (For those of you just tuning in or unsure of what “repugnance” means, I don’t like it. I don’t like it a whole lot.) But more than once I’ve been told, “OK, smart guy, if you think the Chase sucks, what’s your solution? If the Chase is bad, so were seasons when an eventual champion ran away with the points lead with 10 races left to run. Offer some constructive criticism rather than just destructive drivel.”

So, I’ve pondered the matter for a number of years. I’ve developed points systems and tried them out on current and past seasons to see if they work as I intended them to. I’ve studied the Formula 1 points system, the IndyCar Series points system and everything short of drawing numbers out of a hat. I’ve puzzled until my puzzler is sore.

And I think I finally have a points system that, even if I’m not entirely happy with, will be my basis for tweaking going forward so I’m ready for that grand day when I am appointed Grand Puba of NASCAR and Brian France is demoted to Vice President of Reconciling Petty Cash and Ordering Sandwiches for Lunch.

Now, every points system has to have an underlying reason for its existence. The classic Latford system was designed (on the back of a cocktail napkin by most accounts) to give teams incentive to run every event in the era where factory support of racing was ending, teams were running only the events with larger purses and Winston was still getting its feet wet in the sport. The Chase was designed because of some wrongheaded notion that, with the advent of the new TV deal, NASCAR needed something to keep folks’ attention glued to stock car racing when the NFL season started.

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This is like the notion of an average guy in college embarking on a high-profile binge of drinking too much, snorting coke, staying out too late and wrecking cars in hopes that one day Lindsay Lohan will ask him out. It’s never going to happen. With that said, my points system is intended to make every race equally important, reintroduce hard racing at the front of the pack rather than points racing, and to first stop then reverse the erosion of interest among longtime stock car racing fans turned off by the Chase and the New Car.

My points system is like its author… simple. The winner of each race gets 500 points. 500 is a magic number in stock car racing. It’s simple and easy to remember. The second-place finisher gets 200 points. Yeah, winning has its rewards. The third-place finisher gets 100 points. The fourth-place finisher gets 50 points. Fifth place earns 40 points and so on, in decreasing 10-point increments down to eighth place which pays 10 points.

Finish ninth or worse? Well, thanks for playing – we have some lovely consolation gifts for you as well as zero points. Zero points to the ninth-place finisher. Zero points to the 43rd-place start-and-parker. Nobody remembers who finished ninth. That takes some of the sting out of a DNF caused by a driver going both guns blazing for a win that wrecks or blows, and it reduces the rewards for cruising.

It also eliminates any incentive for a team with a badly damaged car to repair it and return the car to action only to get in the way of the leaders for points. Some folks still say consistency beats occasional brilliance, so my system still gives a nice reward for a top-five finish and even just missing a top five.

What would the points look like right now under my system? I did the calculations for the drivers in this year’s Chase and the two drivers who just missed the cut, Kyle Busch who won four races and Matt Kenseth who won two. Here’s what I came up with. Keep in mind, as always, given a different points structure drivers and teams might have strategized differently.

Driver Points Wins
Tony Stewart 2,790 3
Mark Martin 2,630 4
Jimmie Johnson 2,340 3
Kyle Busch 2,240 4
Jeff Gordon 2,050 1
Denny Hamlin 1,810 2
Kasey Kahne 1,270 2
Kurt Busch 1,110 1
Matt Kenseth 1,100 2
Brian Vickers 750 1
Carl Edwards 640 0
Ryan Newman 560 0
Greg Biffle 520 0
Juan Pablo Montoya 430 0

Editor’s Note: These totals do not include Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, just the 26 regular-season races prior to the Chase.

Note that under my points system, any one of the top-three drivers could leave NHIS with the points lead, and that’s without resetting the points after Richmond. Hypothetically, Kyle Busch could have left New Hampshire just 40 points behind Tony Stewart if Busch were to win the race and Stewart were to finish the race ninth or worse. Under the traditional points system, folks always calculated that anyone with 161 points of the lead could take over the top spot.

Of course, that involved the Chaser winning the race and leading the most laps while the points leader would have to finish last without leading a lap. That happens occasionally, but the guy leading the points didn’t get there by wrecking out on the first lap of a race a whole lot. Yet under my system, the full 500-point swing would occur if the Chaser won the race and the points leader finished ninth or worse, a scenario that is 35 times more likely to occur. With 10 races left and a potential 5,000-point swing in the standings, even Dale Earnhardt Jr., his very own popular self, would still have a dog in the fight.

Let’s look at the implications in the final laps of a race. The driver who is second in the points by 150 points is running second, while the points leader is leading the race as well. To that driver running second, there’s a potential 600 points in the balance.

If the points leader wins, Mr. Second Place loses another 300 points. But if the runner up can somehow make that pass, he gains 300 points instead and takes over the points lead. Or maybe the guy leading the race will drop a few more spots after burning off his tires and the points advantage will be even greater. Worst case scenario (evil grin inserted here), if I lose it on a banzai pass attempt and take out the leader as well, I’m no worse off than I was prior to the race.

Likewise, there’s enough of a points advantage between third and sixth to ensure some spirited racing towards the front of the pack, even if someone is running away unassailably with the race as sometimes happens.

My guess is given my points system, from the drop of the green flag of the first race of the season the teams and drivers capable of winning would be going all out to do so to collect those 500 points, knowing they might come in handy down the stretch. No more cruising for points and top-10 finishes to get into the Chase. Stand on it, baby, just stand on it. Make sure those fans at home need fireplace tongs to get the cushion out of their butt crack after the way they puckered up down there watching the final 10 laps.

That’s what we all really want to see, the best drivers in the sport gunning all out for the race win each week, with gentlemanly conduct damned to the lawn croquet tournament.

I’ve toyed with other ideas within my points system, including awarding double points for the Daytona 500 (the first race of the season), Darlington (the oldest race), the World 600 (the longest race) and the season finale wherever it is held just to throw an Ozark into the final points standings. A potential 1,000-point swing in the standings? I’m not adverse to the idea. I’m just averse to doing any more math to see how it would play out this season.

Under my system, there would be two big winners. Kyle Busch would move from “out of the chase” to fourth in the standings. And fans both at the track and at home watching would see each and every race, just not the final 10, as a unique and important event into itself, a key stepping off point to a title.

Under my system, consistency would have its rewards though winning would be the most important thing. Every race would matter, and there’d be no silly resetting of the points and seeding after the 26th race. I guarantee there’d be more hard racing up front throughout the year, sparing the annual ritual of drivers already in Chase contention cruising conservatively to maintain their advantage which made this summer such a bummer.

I leave it to you, gentle readers, to poke holes in my system the way an iceberg punched a hole in the Titanic below the waterline. But if my system is imperfect, it simply can not be any worse than the Rube Goldberg complicated joke that is the Chase.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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