Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Drivers Focused on Winning - But is the New Points System?

                                                  Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs  

Earlier this year, NASCAR announced a simpler points structure that was supposed to reward drivers for winning. A win in the first 26 races virtually guaranteed teams a spot in the season ending Chase for the Championship. Points would be awarded based on finishing order, which should mean that the winners so far this season should be atop the leaderboard.

But after eight races, Jeff Gordon sits alone as the points leader, one point ahead of second place Matt Kenseth. Neither driver has a win in 2014. The first driver with a win is third place Carl Edwards, who has one win, and is 19 points behind Gordon.

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick, who has two wins this season, sits in 22nd place, 111 points out of the lead.

So what is the great equalizer here? How are two drivers with no wins leading the points and a driver with two wins sitting in 22nd?

The answer lies in the driver's finishes along the way. Both Gordon and Kenseth have no DNFs, while Harvick has two. Gordon and Kenseth also have more top-10 finishes so far than the rest of the field, and both have two top fives.

Compare that to Harvick, with his two wins, two top fives and three top 10s (half of what Gordon and Kenseth have), along with two DNFs.

So with the consistent finishers being up front, and the car with the most wins somewhere in the middle, what exactly is the difference in the points system this season? Is winning only an advantage when it comes to making the Chase?

NASCAR wants fans to think that winning is what matters, but what is blatantly clear after the first eight races is that not much has changed. The teams that stay consistent and finish races are rewarded more than those who don't.

As the season continues, it will be interesting to see how the points system unfolds, until it gets to the Chase, and everything is turned upside down. The new Chase format is slightly confusing and works on an elimination style format, much like football or basketball playoffs.

So, after all the rule changes, one thing remains the same. Consistency is rewarded in our sport. It always has been and will continue to be. The Chase was supposedly created after Matt Kenseth consistently raced his way to a Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) Championship. It was thought that it would provide more entertainment and suspense for the fans. But what's so different? The elimination-style Chase and "winning gets you in" are new, but after 26 races, if a driver is the points leader and still has not won a race, he is provisioned into the Chase.

After 10 years of chasing the championship, I think it's time to return to the format that worked so well for years. Let all 36 races determine the season's champion. Winning and consistency should be rewarded, and a team that performs consistently for 36 races should be rewarded. Also, let's be honest, once the Chase starts, the racing is not as good, since everyone tries to avoid the Chasers as they circle the track.

Let's level the playing field again and give everyone a shot. No more Chases and playoff formats. Show the fans that you can withstand a 36-race season that spans time zones and race track types and be rewarded for it. NASCAR is not basketball, and it won't ever be. We've always been a sport where consistent teams shine, and even with the changes to the points system this year, consistency still reigns supreme.


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