NASCAR officials found themselves in an unusual position Friday. President Mike Helton explained what could lead the sanctioning body to make a change in the points system, but he could not explain the details of such a change.
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Helton detailed why NASCAR is considering overhauling its 35-year-old points system, but did not offer additional details as to what the final format would entail or officially confirm reports of a system rewarding the finishing order from 43 points to one.
“The goal is to have a more simple points system,” Helton said. “If you look at all of motorsports and even other sports, as well, it sometimes is complicated. Even for us, we have to occasionally go to the rule book and look at what position got what points. So the goal for some time has been to create a points system that is easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to be talked about, but also be credible at the end of the season.
“And so it’s a function of taking the current one that establishes the criteria for the credibility because of its length of time we’ve used it more than anything and come up with one that you can sit and have a conversation with someone and say, ‘Well, what do you think about this?’ and they sit there and say, ‘Well, that’s pretty simple.’
With less than a month before the start of Speedweeks, Helton said the delay in announcing the final points system was because of the need to speak with all of NASCAR’s shareholders. He added that the new points system would be implemented through the top three tours. Helton also did not discount possible changes around the Chase for the Sprint Cup format that would “enhance the importance of winning that would be reflective in setting the Chase field.”
While the new points system remained a reoccurring theme throughout the 45-minute, question-and-answer session, Helton, Vice President Robin Pemberton and Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby provided resolutions to some but not all of the unknowns.
Helton said the sanctioning body would stand by its decision not to allow Sprint Cup drivers to run for the Nationwide Series championship. Although both Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski had hoped to continue their competition for the title in both divisions – and sponsor Nationwide was hoping for the same opportunity – NASCAR refused to waver.
“It was considered, and Nationwide had expressed that to us as well as some of the drivers,” Helton said. “Particularly Carl and Brad had expressed it as, ‘OK, can you just give me one more year.’
“We stuck to the decision, once we made it, that we felt like it was better for everybody concerned, the whole industry, to go ahead and draw the line and not have any lingering effects to it.”
Helton did not believe that having a Cup driver win a lot of Nationwide races – such as Kyle Busch did last year, winning 13 events in just 29 starts – would make a mockery of that series.
“The effort is worth it to get more attention paid and exposure to the developing personalities that are coming into the sport, oh, by the way, while they’re competing against the legendary names of the sport,” Helton said. “And you can debate and argue that, ‘Okay, if I win 10 or 12 races and don’t win the championship, what’s the championship worth?’ Well, it’s still the championship. It’s still a big old trophy, still a nice check, still a guy who went out there and competed against 43 teams and became the champion of that series.
“So I think it’s still a NASCAR national series championship, which I think is valuable and credible.”
NASCAR is still considering what parameters will be used for determining the eligibility of rookie candidates. Currently, there is a void in the Cup series of freshman drivers running the full schedule. While the Wood Brothers officially announced that Trevor Bayne will compete in 17 races this season, his rookie status is still in flux.
“We continue our talks with all the teams and the stakeholders, picking a series has been one of the topics, we know that we’ll have to make some adjustments to the rookie of the year (program) and (drivers) eligibility,” Pemberton said. “We’re talking to some of the parties that directly affects, and I believe that we’ll make some adjustments to that that won’t hurt a rookie coming forward that wants to move up into the Cup series and run for rookie of the year. But we’re in the middle of the talks for that.”
Both Darby and Helton admitted that the sanctioning body still was looking for a new Sprint Cup director, but with all the changes to the car last season, the priority was working through the transitions. The recent announcements that Pocono and Martinsville were moving qualifying to Saturdays could become a trend “in an effort to put on a better show, better ticket for the fans,” Pemberton said. He added that although teams expected fuel injection would be introduced to the sport by this spring, Pemberton didn’t anticipate using it for a points race in 2011.
Beyond the normal layers of competition, Helton admitted there are still challenges facing the sport. Helton, however, viewed many of NASCAR’s issues as global ones.
“Obviously the whole world, and particularly the United States and some marketplaces that we go race in or more so than others are still burdened with the economy,” Helton said. “That’s something I think that not just our sport but all sports, all forms of entertainment, a lot of businesses, different categories of businesses have had to struggle with creating new models of how they do their business and how you adapt to the current times.
“And in our industry in particular, in NASCAR, we’ve got so many layers of different categories of businesses, from the sponsorship level or the businesses inside the sport that make the sport work, like racetracks and team owners and NASCAR itself, that has stepped up to the table and has looked at its business models to keep the sport going and then help it get back on a growth pattern.”