That coupled with the many different writers out there throwing out their opinions on what NASCAR should do just pushed me to take a good hard look at statistics and historical factors amongst many series and their structures.
So like the crazy person I am, I decided to spend the last few days becoming the motorsports version of SETI, swimming through all the point structures, historical finishing data and variations I could get my hands on in an effort to find some kind of rhythm.
The first thing I already knew that I re-affirmed… The American LeMans Series has a crappy website with bad links and no useful information to this research…thank you Wikipedia. Pertaining to point systems however:
It’s All About the Differentials Baby.
A lot of people do notice the disparity from “rewarding leaders enough” in NASCAR vs. other series, but the problem goes much further than that (as you’ll see below). In order to accurately compare all the many point systems out there, you need a common denominator, rather than comparing 185 pts. for first place to 50 points for 1st etc. The common denominator across all series is first place getting the most points.
If you consider 1st place in a race as 100% of a possible goal, and any place below that as a smaller percentage of the total possible goal, then this is how the point differentials break out amongst some main series. (I excluded ALMS because they use 3 different systems depending on race length)
What you will notice first is that NASCAR’s current plan and proposed new plan are basically siblings, with a very slight variation. This means at the heart of it, they are changing nothing. The biggest issue of course is too much rewarding mediocrity. NASCAR’s proposed new system still awards 50% of the points possible for 22nd place. Tell me which you think is worthy of better standing, someone who finishes 22nd twice in two races, or someone who dominates and wins a race, but then succumbs to an engine failure in the 2nd race.
For comparison’s sake, in IndyCar, you must finish 7th or better to receive at least 50% of first place's points, in Formula One you need 4th place for 48% or better. This is clearly the biggest issue for NASCAR; Jimmy Johnson doesn’t run away because he wins the majority of races, he runs away by stacking up points in finishing 6th-22nd place: 2010 (9 times), 2009 (13), 2008 (15), 2007 (11), 2006 (18).
If they gave fewer points for doing sub-par finishing, Jimmie may have still won the championships, but he definitely would not have pulled away with so many mid-level finishes.
The second issue for NASCAR (and also IndyCar/Grand-Am) is that they don’t zero out at any level. NASCAR’s new system would come as close as possible to accomplishing this with 1 point for last, but at the current moment, you could do pace laps, pull straight into the pits, go home and eat a sandwich and fall asleep before the race is over… and you’d still get 20% of the possible points as a guy out there racing to the edge for every lap.
|Interestingly, this was the first |
picture that came up when
I typed 'nascar' into Google
The problem with not zeroing out points is this; you tell me who had the worst season:
Driver A) 6 starts, 3 top 10 finishes; qualified 2nd for a race, led 15 laps at the Indy 500.
Driver B) 5 starts, finished 14th or better in 4 of them including 18 laps led and a 6th place finish.
Driver C) Qualified at or very near the bottom in all but 1 race of 16, finishing last of all running cars for every race.
It doesn’t take a genius to know both Paul Tracy and Mike Conway had better years than Milka Duno in 2010, yet she finished 74 and 93 points ahead of them simply because she showed up to more races, even though she sucked horribly at all of them.
Zeroing out is the one thing Formula One most definitely gets right; though I’m not advocating IndyCar, NASCAR or Grand-Am need to zero out the points at the halfway point of the field like F1. But doing it at 75% of the field would make a lot of sense. That translates to needing 32nd or better in NASCAR to get points, IndyCar=20th or better, Grand-Am=10th or better. And obviously the 75% can vary per the amount of cars qualified.
Other bits of mediocrity that NASCAR can stop giving points for is simply leading any lap. Leading the most laps is an accomplishment, staying out during a caution to take the lead for a lap, only to later get back on the lead lap due to a “lucky dog” is not something to be rewarded; but that’s been a result of NASCAR trying to allow people to all keep up with Jimmie Johnson. The only problem is Chad Knaus and Jimmie are smart guys, so they make sure to get those points too.
Hendrick motorsports isn’t just dominating because they have the answer to so many questions, it’s because the Sprint Cup series doesn’t require them to take that many different tests. Most tracks are close enough in characteristics that the team has less setups to nail, and many tracks are run multiple times in the same season furthering the issue. Nail one base setup and you’ve got 60-70% of the tracks. That’s where IndyCar has the goldmine:
Short flat ovals, short banked oval, large banked ovals, flat Indy, bumpy street courses, skinny street courses, airport courses, hilly terrain courses; racing in the rain as well.
There isn’t a setup that will work on any two of those, nor a driver who is the best at them all; and it’s partially why IndyCar’s contenders stay closer.
|IndyCar Season||Most oval pts.||Most road/street pts.|
|2010||Dario Franchitti - 268||Will Power - 412|
|2009||Scott Dixon - 406||Dario Franchitti - 270|
|2008||Scott Dixon - 482||Helio Castroneves - 233|
|2007||Dario Franchitti - 463||Scott Dixon - 217|
|2006||Dan Wheldon - 415||Scott Dixon - 125|
|2005||Dan Wheldon - 536||Tony Kanaan - 133|
Lastly, can everyone stop slapping one series’ point system onto another? Many writers LOVE to do this, but different rewards elicit different actions. If shots within the free-throw area were only worth 1-point in the NBA we’d see a lot less dunks, if they shortened marathons to 16,000 meters runners wouldn't save so much energy, and if NASCAR had Formula One’s point system, they’d stop settling for Top 20 finishes; so let’s stop assuming similar results with different setups.