Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: NASCAR’s Game-Changer That Doesn’t Change the Game

Raise your hand if NASCAR’s announcement on Monday left you a little shocked and confused.

Oh, good, so it’s not just me.

Segmented races? Championship points?  Playoff points?  It’s enough to make you wring your hands in despair.

It’s certainly going to take some time to digest and learn who gets points for what and when. Already, strong feelings have been expressed on social media, ranging from anger to delight to confusion.

Still, there are still questions to be answered.  Former driver and current analyst Jeff Burton admitted that there are situations that will come up that couldn’t have been planned for, and those will require quick thinking.  There are a lot of terms floating around that fans will need to learn.

If you’re a fan of keeping things simple, this change will take an adjustment, because while it’s many things, simple isn’t one of them.

But it does have the potential to be exciting.

Here’s where my longtime readers will probably pass out from shock: the better I understand this, the more I think I actually like it.

Yes, it’s a manipulation of cautions, but two at set intervals are a better alternative than the caution clock NASCAR tried in the Camping World Truck Series, which teams were not fond of, and if we see fewer cautions for phantom debris, I don’t think you’ll see many fans complaining about that.

On paper, at least, there’s potential for more excitement each race.  Will it make every driver race like it’s the last lap, every lap?  No, and I don’t think there’s any way to do that.  What it will do is make anyone with a chance at a stage win race for it. It will create pit strategy, since pitting is not required between stages, so you will see teams short pitting and gambling while others play it safe.

There’s also a ton to gain for the teams on the playoff bubble.  With an extra 20 points on the line, suddenly a top 15 isn’t good enough; they’ll be looking for a piece of the pie too.

Think of this like the three-point line in basketball: It adds strategy and more opportunity for a game-changing moment, but it doesn’t really change the game.  And that’s good.  Does it manipulate the game?  Yes, it does.  But it doesn’t ultimately change the fact that teams will have to race several hundred miles to win.  It just gives them more ways to try and get there.

The key, though, is that while the playoff system is still in place, season-long excellence is suddenly much more important.  A driver can now earn enough playoff points during the regular season to overcome a bad race in the final 10.  That’s huge.

Because the bonus will carry through all but the final round, it will assure the best drivers for the season a fighting chance if they have a crash or other issue. And it also makes a situation like we saw a couple of years ago between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth less likely to end a worthy title bid.  Giving the best driver all season a better chance at a title bid at Homestead-Miami Speedway adds legitimacy to the playoff format.

If all the different points confused you, here it is in a nutshell as it pertains to the playoffs.  The playoff system (it’s no longer called the Chase) is largely unchanged, as is how drivers qualify.  What does change is how bonus points – now called playoff points – will be awarded. Gone is the single marker for leading a lap or leading the most laps. Instead, the winners of the first two stages get one playoff point and the race winner gets five.

So let’s say a driver wins three races and five stages in the first 26 races.  That’s 20 playoff points going into the final 10.

But wait, there’s more. If that same driver accumulates the most points in the regular season, there’s actually a reward for that now. Add another 15 points, making that total 35. Once the standings are reset after Richmond International Raceway in the 26th race of the season, those points are added to the total, so they’ll have a sizable lead.

And it’s still not over. Just for fun, a win at Chicagoland Speedway and leading the first two stages at New Hampshire Motor Speedway mean that driver is locked into the next round, but when points are reset, those playoff points – now up to 42 – carry over to round two. In round two, after three stage wins and a 30th in the last race after an unfortunate accident, suddenly the 45 points could be what saves the season. It’s far from a guarantee , but there’s a fighting chance.

In the last race, drivers are on their own, but at least they’re in the last race, where they may not have been after that crash the year before.

In the last couple of years, the best drivers all year didn’t necessarily get the chance to compete for the title at Homestead, which made it seem hollow, but the new system could change that for the better.

And really, at the end of the day, what’s unlikely to change is the fundamental way viewers watch a race.  The guaranteed cautions leave a sour taste, as does counting those laps.  But there will be more strategy. Come in at the predetermined yellow at the 25 percent and 50 percent marks of each race? That’s well over a fuel run anyway, so at least one stop will have already happened. Short pit and gamble that track position will get you a few more points when all is said and done? It’s likely the pits will be closed for a handful of laps before the yellow, but not so many that teams can’t play the strategy card.

Still, a 500-mile race is a 500-mile race.  It will take about the same amount of time to run; there will just be more sidebars to keep an eye on as the race goes on. It doesn’t cheapen the title or the race wins, which has long been a sticking point with the playoff system.

It’s not your grandpa’s NASCAR, but this time, it should be worth watching.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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It is still lipstick on a pig and is a big shiny objects of distraction that NASCAR does so well! The few sheep with the attention spans of fleas on crack..lap it up. They are incapable of the study, the strategy, discipline, the wonderful and frustrating variables a non gimmicky good race entails.

This just shows desperation that NASCAR need not have, they have strayed far from their roots and have d-legitimized any merit a drive could have. WWE!

A very sad continued slope with the avalanche warning always in place, they continue to ski down into insanity, stupidity and a righteous arrogance that does them, fans, owners, drivers or sponsors not a damn bit of good.


so when will nascar start awarding points for jumping cars through hoops of fire with style points for flare. bring on the monster energy girls..
stick a fork in it.
it’s (over) done


YES BEE-DEE, the insanity is ramped up several notches for 2017! I have to admit I did not see this coming….Fruck me!!!!!!!!!!


More gimmicks, more gimmicks


sounds to me like brain fart is trying to make na$car even more so into a football type sport….segments i.e. quarters. i mean we typically only had this wacky format when it was a non-points race like all star race.

i notice that the “controversial” drivers weren’t on stage, just the one na$car needs in a car to keep butts in the seats (earnhardt jr, see how long he’s racing after a werck that rings his bell this season), or even that delightful personality harvick or kyle busch. maybe cousin carl had some insight as to what the brain trust were going to do.

see how long i watch races this year. i mean most of last year i saw a little and “watched” from recaps posted the next day.


I guess king brian doesn’t believe that old saw that ‘better is the enemy of good enough’. The way it was 30 years ago was good enough. I just simply can’t bring myself to give a damn anymore…


I wrote back in November that we would be waiting with bated breath for Brian’s next “brilliant” idea. But this has exceeded his desperation.

Steve Hallee

Two thing come to mind thinking about all this:

1.) Didn’t a few years back Nascar rant and rave about simplifying the points system so everyone can understand it? (Like the old one was so complicated to begin with.) Just amazing how the change their tune based on their agenda

2.) Its sickening how the team owners, drivers and media fall right into line with these changes. I haven’t heard one person criticize it from those inside the sport. They sure know where their bread is buttered don’t they? I’m sure we will be hearing from DW and Larry Mac about how wonderful these changes are. Makes me want to vomit.

Tim S.

Good point. Just how they raved in 1999 about the TV deal putting a lot of races on networks. That didn’t hang on very long, did it? A few years later they were all over the ESPN channels and now it doesn’t seem to matter a bit that so many events are on NBC’s sports channel, and Fox Sports 2.

As to point 2, most of them spend more to get to the track than a lot of fans will make in a year. So of course they’re not going to step out of line. Until the sponsors and jobs for the big-name folks start drying up, don’t expect any dissenters.

Bill B

Forget about whether or not this is what you want the points system to be.
Forget about whether or not this is the best system.
Forget about how ridiculously convoluted and Rube Goldbergish this structure is.
For the moment, forget about how it will affect the individual races.
We all want peace on earth, no hunger and no sickness, but that isn’t going to happen.

The only question that matters at this minute is… Does this system raise the probability of making the champion more valid or does it lower it? In other words, with regards to the championship itself and the legitimacy of the championship is it better or worse than 2016?

I honestly don’t think it will do anything to make the individual races better but I believe it is an improvement with regards to crowning a more deserving and legitimate champion. Does anyone disagree with that?

Tim S.

I’m not even going to try to learn how this point system works, so I won’t disagree with your assessment of what it might or might not do. But I will disagree that your question is the only one that matters, simply because racing is more than just a season title.

Bill B

I wasn’t implying that the championship is the only thing that matters. I didn’t do a good job of conveying what I was trying to say.

My point was, that these changes announced last night only addressed the championship itself. NASCAR may be trying to convince us that it will change the races and make them better but from what I see it won’t. There is nothing in the rules to make the winner of the races more legitimate or the racing better to watch.
So, with respect to these changes, they only apply to the championship. There is no way anything they said last night will make the racing better so that is why when you critique these new rules you should be thinking about only how they affect the championship.

Tim S.

Looking at it from that perspective, I now see what you mean, Bill. I always had you pegged as a “race first, points later” type of fan, so your comment struck me as odd. We know the racing isn’t going to be any better because the cars and tracks are largely unchanged. So consideration may as well be given to the points. Good luck to all of the fans who will be trying to figure it out.

Steve Cosentino

When Jeff Burton said “This will allow the networks to show more green flag racing” I almost spit out my drink.The biggest issue with NASCAR on tv is not the length of the races its way to many commercials to actually enjoy the racing. And for the love of racing what network idiot goes away from green flag racing to show pit stops? How in the world does that make any sense at all? Imagine the NFL going to commercial break at the 2 minute warning so we can see them walking to the locker room at halftime? Yet they do just that. That is the stupidest thing they have done. I want to watch a race, not a car get gas.

Bill B

You’d think that but since no passing is happening on the track and most of the time it is a parade during green flag, all the passing happens on pit road and therefore that’s why you see yellow pit stops over green flag racing.


Jeff Burton is getting ready for a run for President.

Ron Schwalbe

One HUGE point everyone is ignoring ! NONE of these Race points, playoff points, bonus points, or total WINS- etc – will have ANY bearing whatsoever on who actually wins the so-called – SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP, other than being one of the four –who will STILL have to play the musical chairs farce !!!
ALL those “valuable points–and WINS etc., -are taken away — leaders in those categories STILL get punished.
It’s a goofy, free for all farce with NO one “eliminated – they ALL are still on the track – affecting all the playoff races – – and it is STILL possible … under their new “Calculous system” – to have a driver win EVERY SINGLE segment— Every single race- collect MAXIMUM points etc thruoput the entire season –and STILL NOT—-NOT…. be the Season Champion if he finishes second ( or worse) in the final “Exhibition race” at Homestead — of COURSE it wouldn’t happen but – it –IZ …still POSSIBLE under this mess. NOTHING changed !
What;s the point in all this if it’s all taken AWAY again at the end ???!
Each RACE in itself, could now be more interesting ( as long as I keep a calculator handy) – but – the SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP –is STILL – Totally irrelevant re; total points earned–total wins etc etc NONE of it matters

Chris Phineas

More damn gimmicks to try to manipulate and manufacture “excitement” without addressing the elephant in he room…..the CARS. The only consistency in NASCAR is change. Since BZF took over, this is the 7th different point/championship system. 7th…in 13 years. Let that sink in. 7th change in 13 years.

The cars are the problem first and foremost. You know…the actual PRODUCT NASCAR is supposed to be selling. Instead they are selling marketing buzzwords like drama! The cars are too aero dependent and make too much downforce. Add in the cars are aerodynamically equal, and you get a parade. Everyone is going the same speed, have way to high corner speeds, and cannot pass. Cut off the splitter, side skirts, install a minimum of 5″ ride height, and require a maximum 1″ sway bar to get rid of the coil binding setups, and get soft tires that fall off during a run. Simple fixes that will remove downforce, slow dow corner speeds and require mechanical grip not aero to get through the corner.

Why all the change? It isn’t because it was working. Simply….. it is desperation. Ratings are 1/2 of what they were 10 years ago, and on steadily decline of greater than 10% over the past few years. NASCAR could not find a sucker of a sponsor to pay $100M a year for 10 years. Rather they settled for $20M for 2 years, and at the 11 hour from Coca-Cola. TV money is the life support funding NASCAR. Without it and they will be worse off than INDYCAR. So what does the so-called “braintrust” do with ratings down double digits? Come up with TV timeouts! It is exciting! Can’t you feel it?

Not to be outdone…NASCAR listened to the fans…and got rid of the CHASE! Oh…wait, just in name only. The sports entertainment, WWE style drama, and eliminations are still there…with just a new name. The winner of ONE RACE is deemed the Champion of the series. STUPID STUPID STUPID.

Oh…and to confuse it even more, we are going to have 2 point systems, with POINTS AS THEY RUN now permanently a feature of the TV telecast. Oh yippie. I still cannot believe that all the braintrust at NASCAR, the drivers, the teams, and TV could not see a flaw in their new/improved/enhanced/greatest thing since last years exciting news conference/ point system.

For example: Driver X spends the 1st half of the race outside the top 10, but comes on late to win the Daytona 500. That driver will receive 40 championship points for the win and 5 Chase points. Driver Y starts out strong and “wins” segments 1 & 2, but fades late to finish 16th. Driver Y would earn 21 points for finishing 16th, plus 20 bonus points for winning segment 1 & 2 for a total of 41 points. Oh and Driver Y would have 2 Chase points. Anyone see the problem here?

You know what is a radical idea…..scrap all this crap and do to a season long single point system. Driver that accumulates the greatest total is the winner. See……that isn’t too hard now is it?

Biff Baynehouse

With the “charter” system, drivers are now vested agenda-oriented corporate sensationalist, paid mouthpiece & used shoe sales-men pitching bull-chips.
If “stakeholders” with vested interest are shaping the direction of the sport …then the don’t know their axe from holes in the ground, or motorsports from a dog & pony show.
What is disenfranchising about making motorsports resemble stick & balls sports – is that motorsports then no longer resembles MOTORPORTS! DUH!!! This is an absurd assertion that I REJECT part & parcel.
Explain to me when, in the last 10 years, has green flag racing EVER prevented TV from taking advertising breaks? That is also a bold-faced fictional confabulation!
NASCAR’s VP [O’Donnell], “…NASCAR [is] willing to bet [on] this format…”. I hope he/they are prepared to go home with out any marbles.
For WHAT fans? …who? …where? Soccer fans? MLB fans? X-games & Monster Truck rally fans? Martha Stewart & Rachael Ray fans? Motorsports fans do NOT want & did NOT ask for this! Wth? Mind boggling idiocy!
The ultimate in farcical hyper-complex absurdities, second only to the “chase” format! France, O’Donnell & Co. are heaven sent …for IMSA, Indycar, F1 & Aussie Supercar racing! And thank God for them, bc Nascar is a NO SALE!


Fortunately for NASCAR, Monster Energy (Coke) bailed them out when no one wanted to step up to become the ‘premier’ series sponsor. That tells me NASCAR is on life support and the humane thing to do is simply pull the plug and let ’em die in peace with what little dignity the sport has left.


According to Stevie O:

“The format is going to be implemented across all three of our national series.”

This keeps getting better and better.


Looks like I’ll have even more free time to do other things this year. Goodbye Nascar. Enjoy your stupid new point system.

Bob Stuart

I guess the guiding principle of NASCAR these days is never award the championship based on the same criteria twice. The championship means less and less with all this tinkering. Dump the chase, or the playoff, or whatever we call it. And I agree with the comment that the heart of the problem is not format or points but the vanilla, one just like the other cars — and cars that look like museum pieces rather than the best that clever design can produce. Tune in Aussie Super 8s — there is the direction the sport out to be thinking about.

Jeremy Allen

There is no reason that the sport we love should piss us off so much, but they continue to find new ways to do it. Does the NFL? MLB? College Football? Other sports may make minor changes that we don’t necessarily like, but no one seems to continually to anger its fan base like NA$Car.

Until they fix the cars and the tracks they race on (i.e. fewer 1.5 mile tracks) nothing will change. Chris Phineas mentioned below that this was the 7th change in 13 years. They have tinkered with something that should’ve never been messed with and it will not improve until they unwind all of their “updates”. I don’t watch a race in March concerned with the points, I watch for that race. It doesn’t all have to build to something at the end of November with the “points as they run” crap. Because even in November I’m not going to care about the “playoffs” as much as they think I should.


A couple observations: Three segments allow DW to use his extremely annoying “BBB” phrase multiple times. I can’t begin to imagine how much time will be spent with the booth trying to tell us about ‘the points as they run now’, or where a certain driver ‘has to finish’ to gain more points than the race winner. Ultimately, I wonder if this will do anything to make the networks follow more than just the top 10 or so drivers for the majority of the race? A playoff without eliminations is NOT a playoff, it’s a melee. The reason the ‘chase’ drivers have won the majority of ‘chase’ races is because no one wants to be responsible for ruining someone’s chances of winning a 10 race title. Until the aero on the cars and the variety of tracks is fixed, all the lipstick in the world won’t make this pig attractive.


That’s a good point. With these segments, they will have an excuse to not bother showing more than the Top 10 since those are the only points paying positions as I’m sure the emphasis will be on “every point matters” even in races in March.

I also have a feeling that tv viewing could get worse and not better? Everyone thinks they will be showing commercials during these breaks. I’m not sure how when they will be interviewing drivers, crew chiefs etc after each segment? How long will the breaks be? And I’m sure sponsors don’t want their commercials shown when everyone is on a bathroom break. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.




I guess we know why Carl Edwards called it quits. I don’t blame him.


Same with Stewart and Gordon. Tired of all the gimmicks and the circus that is playoffs playoffs playoffs. Expect more of it to happen. Jr is about one hard crash away from retirement and I can’t see Harvick, Kenseth and Johnson sticking around much longer either. They certainly don’t need the money and they all have championships.


At least it will make Fantasy Racing more fun! I hate having a driver run in the Top 5 all day, then (thanks to double file restarts and the Lucky Dog) that driver has a flat tire or gets spun while racing for the win and ends up 25th.
With the Stage Points, it’ll still be a good Fantasy Points (and seasonal Points) Day for said Driver.

As I said yesterday, ELIMINATE THE LUCKY DOG, and I can live with the new points system.


Without the Lucky Dog, Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t have 7 championships. I hate it. Want to win a race if you’re a lap down? Pass the leader. It’s ridiculous that any driver could be down 2 laps, never pass the leader, and still win a race.


This is going by the monster energy playbook. Glorified heat races. Similar to other monster energy events like trophy trucks, the little fwd cars whatever they’re called, even motocross.

At least indy car and formula one haven’t given in …yet.


Sorry, as a long-time fan who has lost interest these last three or four years, these changes just confuse me. I don’t want to make the effort to understand them. How about they run the race and whoever finishes first wins.
I also guess Nascar has decided they will not be making any new fans, as the points system is so convoluted newbies will get a headache and quit quickly.
I do miss racing on Sunday, but all things must change and I am afraid nascar has jumped the shark.

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