What’s the point? Trying to understand NASCAR’s new system

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by Ryan Isley

 

Reactions from a segment of NASCAR fans during and after the Daytona 500 this past weekend read like a transcript from an Abbott and Costello skit.

“Who’s in first? I don’t know who’s in third. Wait, who’s in first now?”

I was among the many who were interested to see how things would unfold after NASCAR announced it would be going to segment racing this season with each segment having points awarded afterwards. That is the main reason I didn’t write about the introduction of segment racing or the ways points would be distributed sooner. I wanted to watch it play out in real time and see if it would be as confusing at the beginning as it seemed when it was rolled out. As I expected, it was.

harvick-daytona
Kevin Harvick was the biggest beneficiary of NASCAR’s new point system after the Daytona 500.

During the Daytona 500, some fans and even media members were still trying to figure out the new scoring system. For full disclosure, I still wasn’t even 100% sure of how points were distributed as I sat down to write this so I sent a message to NASCAR executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell to help sort things out. And to Steve’s credit, he was quick to respond and give me the information I was looking for.

The points given out when the race ended wasn’t confusing for the most part, but will become more confusing once the playoffs begin, as drivers will now receive five bonus points for each race won and will carry those bonus points into each segment of the playoffs with the exception of the championship round at Homestead-Miami. Race winners will receive 40 points, with second place earning 35 points, and each place after that declining by one point until 35th place, who receives two points. Finishers from 36th to 40th will receive just one point.

The part of the points system that had people scratching their heads was the points handed out at the end of each segment and their significance.

Points are now given out to the top 10 finishers after each of the first two segments, declining from 10 points for the first-place finisher in the segment to one point for the driver who finishes 10th in the segment. This means that drivers could potentially earn 60 points per race. Well, except for the Daytona 500, which could have been worth 70 points because a win in one of the two qualifying duels on Thursday also earned a driver 10 points. The top 10 drivers in the duels earned points as if it was a race segment as well.

Also, any driver who wins a segment earns one bonus point to be added for the playoffs.

Ready for the ibuprofen yet? I am.

Let’s try to break down how the new points system has affected the overall standings after one race. And remember, things are even more complicated when you add in the points for the duel races, something that will just happen for just this race.

Kurt Busch earned 56 points on the weekend, winning the Daytona 500 (40 points), finishing third in the race’s second segment (eight points) and finishing third in his duel (eight points). Ryan Blaney finished second in the Daytona 500 and earned 44 points – 35 for second place in the Daytona 500, eight points for finishing third in the first segment, and one point for finishing 10th in the second segment. Busch also now has five points when the playoffs begin.

Despite finishing sixth in the Daytona 500, Joey Logano leaves the season’s initial race in third place in the standings with 43 points. Logano earned nine points for finishing second in the second segment and three points for finishing eighth in his duel, along with the 31 points for his Daytona 500 finish.

The driver who used the new points system to his advantage the most was Kevin Harvick.

Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 champion, finished 22nd this year but left the speedway sitting in fourth place in the standings. Harvick earned eight points for finishing third in his duel, nine points for finishing second in the first segment of the Daytona 500 and 10 points for winning the second segment. So despite garnering just 15 points for his actual finish in the race, Harvick has 42 points heading into the second race of the season in Atlanta. The segment win in the Daytona 500 gives Harvick one bonus point for the playoffs as well.

Under the 2016 points system, Busch would have earned 44 points (12 less than 2017), Blaney would have earned 40 points (four less), Logano would have received 36 points (seven less) and Harvick would have earned just 21 points, only half of what he has for this season’s performance.

Here is how things shook out after the Daytona 500 for the top seven finishers (plus Harvick) under the 2017 points system and how it would look under last year’s points system.

Driver Finish 2017 Place 2016 Place
Kurt Busch 1 56 1 44 1
Ryan Blaney 2 44 2 40 2
AJ Allmendinger 3 39 5 39 3
Aric Almirola 4 37 6 38 4
Paul Menard 5 32 T10 36 T5
Joey Logano 6 43 3 36 T5
Kasey Kahne 7 30 13 35 7
Kevin Harvick 22 42 4 21 21

 

While the system seems like it might be really confusing to begin, I think if NASCAR keeps the system in place for a while it might start to catch on. In fact, I think the bigger problem than the new system is the frequency with which NASCAR has tried to tweak their system lately. Fans have a difficult time getting used to one system and then NASCAR changes it.

The one thing this system was supposed to accomplish was for the races to not be a parade until the final laps and it did that during the Daytona 500. The drivers didn’t want that, the teams didn’t want that, NASCAR officials didn’t want that and the broadcasting companies who were digging deep into their pockets to pay for the race rights certainly didn’t want that because it meant less viewers.

Whether you are a fan of segment racing or not, it was refreshing to see drivers actually competing for something in the middle parts of the race instead of waiting for the big wreck to happen and then just hold back until the end of the race to make something happen. And while there were some wrecks during the race that were unnecessary, those didn’t happen as a direct result of the segments. Most of them happened as a result of a driver having no idea what he was doing. See: McMurray, Jamie.

It may not be the perfect system or the perfect form of racing, but for what NASCAR was trying to get out of it, the system seemed to work in the first race. It will take some getting used to for most fans, especially those who still want the series to go back and use the points system that was used back in the day before the playoffs or the Chase ever began. But when all is said and done, I think if NASCAR keeps this system in place and keeps its hands off it to allow it to grow, fans will warm up to it.

And then we will all know who’s in first.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.