NASCAR’s new points system emphasizes winning by placing two wild cards in the Chase For The Sprint Cup based on wins, but in the overall standings, it appears that winning doesn’t mean as much as it did a year ago under the old points system.
And like under the old system, consistency still means more than winning while poor finishes seem to be more difficult to overcome than in the past.
Under last year’s points system, virtually all the drivers who have won races this year would be higher in the standings than they are now under the new system. And many of those who haven’t won a race would drop, especially among those in the 10 automatic Chase spots.
The new system was designed to be simpler to understand and to reward consistent finishes even more than the old system.
Drivers are now awarded points from 43-to-1 depending on their finishing position, with three bonus points for a win, one bonus point for leading a lap and one bonus point for leading the most laps.
Last year, the winner got 185 points for a win, second got 175 with second-sixth separated by five points, sixth-11th separated by four points apiece and then 11th-43rd separated by three points apiece. Leading a lap was worth five points and leading the most laps was worth another five points.
Eight races into 2011, Carl Edwards (one win) leads the standings and would still lead under the old system. Jimmie Johnson, who also has one win, would remain second. Both Edwards and Johnson have four top-three finishes this year, so there’s no arguing their strength on the track.
But of the four other drivers in the top 20 who have wins, all four would be higher in points. Kevin Harvick, the only driver in the series with two wins, would be third under the old system instead of fourth.
Kyle Busch has a win and would be fifth instead of sixth, Matt Kenseth has a win and would be seventh instead of eighth and Jeff Gordon has a win and would be 11th instead of 13th.
Among other drivers in the top 20 who would be higher under the old system would be Clint Bowyer, who is 10th but would be ninth in the old system thanks to his two second-place finishes, and Greg Biffle, who would be 14th instead of 16th.
The new system still rewards consistency more than wins.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has only one finish worse than 12th and is third in points despite only two top-five finishes. He would be fourth under the old system.
He graded his season as somewhere around a C-plus or B-minus.
“We’re doing better than we did last year and we’ve got a couple more gains to make on our finishing positions and I think across the board, could do just a little bit better, performance-wise,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “And we’re working hard and trying to keep up our momentum and trying to improve. I think we’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle and getting them in the right place.”
Ryan Newman has three fifth-place finishes, one 10th-place finish, four finishes in the 20s and is seventh in points. He would be eighth under the old points system.
Many drivers who have had some good finishes but haven’t run up front as much as others would drop using the old points system – Juan Pablo Montoya from ninth to 10th, Paul Menard from 11th to 12th and Tony Stewart from 12th to 13th.
The new system has had less of an impact lower in the standings, which makes sense considering the old points system had a three-point difference for finishes between 11th-43rd. Drivers 17th-24th in the standings would all be in the same spots.
Here is the way the top 10 looks now: Edwards leads followed by Johnson (-5), Earnhardt Jr. (-19), Harvick (-27), Kurt Busch (-28), Kyle Busch (-38), Newman (-42), Kenseth (-43), Montoya (-49) and Bowyer (-50).
Under the old system, the top 10 would be: Edwards, Johnson (-24), Harvick (-91), Earnhardt Jr. (-96), Kyle Busch (-119), Kurt Busch (-132), Kenseth (-155), Newman (-165), Bowyer (-179), and Montoya (-190), Gordon (-210) would be 11th.
Edwards said the key under the new system is avoiding bad finishes, where he could lose 40 points to someone in a heartbeat.
“We can’t risk having something wrong that could fail on lap 50 and finish 42nd or 43rd,” Edwards said. “The risk is so big right now that if you were to have those days, I think everyone has to guard a little bit more against that kind of stuff, so it does change your mentality just a little.
“… The last two or three races I think there will be guys being more cautious to not finish terribly than you’ve seen under the old point system. It would just be the smart thing to do.”