NASCAR makes changes to points, Chase

NASCAR officials confirmed Wednesday that the points system for all three major touring series will be altered in 2011, the first major change of this nature in 36 years.

The new system will award points on a 43-to-1 scale, with the most (43) going to a race winner and the least (1) going to the 43rd, or last-place, finisher. In addition, the Chase for the Sprint Cup field now will be comprised of the top 10 drivers in the points standings and the two drivers with the most season victories not among those leaders but in the top 20. If no other drivers have wins, then the top 12 will be set entirely based on points.

The top-10 Chase drivers will continue to be seeded based on wins during the first 26 races, with each win worth three bonus points. The two drivers who make the field based on wins will not receive bonus points for those victories and will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively.

Bonus points also will be available during races. The winner of a race will receive 3 bonus points, leading a lap will be worth 1 bonus point, as will leading the most laps. Therefore, a race winner who leads the most laps would receive a maximum of 48 points.

It’s a system that simultaneously rewards consistency and wins.

With the season-opening Daytona 500 less than four weeks away, officials outlined the structure of the championship during a news conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

The change marks the first alteration to the points system since 1975, but one that NASCAR felt was necessary to simply the system and make it more easily understood.

It is also designed to put more emphasis on wins, though the gain in points between first and second remains essentially the same in terms of overall percentage.

“We didn’t make a fundamental change in wins or anything else because there’s always a balance,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said. “We like that balance.

“The most important reason is simplicity.”

Still, the main reward for wins will come in those two Chase berths. Kyle Busch won four races in 2009, but did not make the Chase field. In 2010, Jamie McMurray won three races and, like Busch, failed to have the chance to contend for the title. Under this system, those would be rewarded. What might not be is a single win in a season under unusual circumstances. For example, if a driver is deep in the standings but wins on strategy in a rain-shortened race, he would still not be in the Chase.

“Winning ought to be more important,” France said. “We ought to feature it and we ought to work on it. But we have to be careful because, as I’ve said, there’s still 43 teams out there. And you can’t expect a great season to just be measured on wins alone.

“And so it’s a fine line between balancing with the point structure or any other system, the idea to focus, to motivate drivers to win, want to win more, take chances, et cetera. And part of that is that if they have somebody win five in a row, two and three might be a rain situation, a road — some luck of the draw, that might alter the championship in a way that wouldn’t be proportioned.”

What won’t change is the penalty structure.

The points penalties will remain proportionally the same for teams, and the monetary fines will be essentially the same.

“Obviously the numerical number will be different,” France said. “But it will be similar penalties for similar infractions.”

Prior to the announcement, five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said the system, in terms of how it played out, would be similar to that used now.

As to the genesis for the change, he said that the idea of simplifying it would work well for those trying to follow the standings.

“I think it’s more of an attempt to make our points system easier to understand,” he said. “I don’t think that it would be a huge change from the thought that I’ve put into it so far. I don’t see it being a big thing. I know people expect me to react and think, ‘Oh, they’ve got to leave it alone, don’t change it.’ I don’t care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship; I could care less because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances.”

In addition, qualifying will be tweaked so that the order is set based on speeds during practice, with the slowest car in the field qualifying first. There will not be points awarded for qualifying attempts, though NASCAR will keep track of those.

Overall, France seems confident the system does give greater impact to wins while also giving a nod to consistent performances such as those witnessed by Johnson in recent years — the goal the sanctioning body seemed to be trying to reach.

“The win to get in is not a small thing,” France said. “And that does create excitement. It will. It will make starting with the Daytona 500, which is a big enough event anyway, that winning that would be paramount. It will be a little extra special because someone will know it will go into the bank to possibly get into the Chase if they should fall outside of the top 10.

“So we like the changes, and we think that they build on the excitement of what we saw last year with the Chase.”