A NASCAR POINTS SYSTEM PRIMER
The premise of the NASCAR points system is accumulating more points throughout the race season than the other drivers. Whoever has the most points at the end of the race season is the winner.
At it’s essence, it is a pretty simple formula.
A twist was added to this simple points system after the 2003 NASCAR race season. The ‘Chase for the Nextel Cup’ is a unique spin on the race season and how points are accumulated. At the start of the 2007 NASCAR Season the points system was tweaked again. This article includes those changes.
NASCAR SEASON LENGTH
A good starting point in understanding the NASCAR points system is knowing how long the race season runs.
The NASCAR Nextel Cup race schedule generally starts around the second week of February and goes to about the third week of November.
Most races are run on Sunday afternoon. A handful of races are run ‘under the lights’ on Saturday night. With its stretch of 36 NASCAR sanctioned races at race track facilities from the east to west coast, the NASCAR season is arguably the longest and most grueling sports season in the United States.
HOW POINTS ARE AWARDED
A NASCAR race is comprised of 43 drivers. Each participating driver is awarded points based on his (or her) finish position in the race. The range of points earned is from 34 to 185. The table shows the corresponding points to race finish position.
You’ll note that:
- Positions 1st and 2nd have a 15-point spread between them
- Positions 2nd – 6th have a 5-point spread between them
- Positions 6th – 11th have a 4-point spread
- Positions 11th – 43rd have a 3-point spread
Bumping up the points awarded to the winner (from 180 to 185) was done so that more emphasis would be placed on winning. It’s still argued that there should be more points awarded to the winner, and no points awarded below 30th.
In addition to the points a driver can earn for his finish position, extra (bonus) points are awarded for leading a lap during the race.
An extra 5-points is tacked onto the drivers race points earned from his finish position for leading at least one lap in the race. Even more, the driver who leads the most laps, gets twice the bonus points as the other lap leading drivers. He gets a total of 10 points. In the event of a tie for laps lead, the driver with the finish position closest to 1st gets the 10-points.
At best, a driver can score 195 points in one race. That’s 185 points for 1st place and 10 bonus points for leading the most laps. In theory, if the winner of the race also leads the most laps, he could earn 161 more points than the driver finishing 43rd and leading no laps.
195 (185 + 10) [1st place + most laps led] – 34 [last place with no laps led] = 161
BIRTH OF THE CHASE FOR THE NEXTEL CUP
This method seemed ‘good enough’ until the 2004 NASCAR season.
With the rising popularity of NASCAR racing, Brian France (the grandson of Bill France, the founder of NASCAR), devised an alternative to the method of crowning the NASCAR Champion.
I believe it was for three reasons.
- Wins. The 2003 season champion, Matt Kenseth, won the NASCAR Championship having only won 1 race. Jimmie Johnson finished the year 2nd having won 3 races. Ryan Newman finished the year 6th having won 8 races. Matt Kenseth’s consistent top-10 finishes won him the Championship, not his wins. Some argued that wins not consistency should determine the Championship.
- Excitement. Recent NASCAR seasons Championships were runaway victories many races before the last race was run.
- Jeff Gordon, the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion scored 349 points more than 2nd place Tony Stewart.
- Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion scored 265 more points than 2nd place Dale Earnhardt.
- Dale Jarrett, the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion scored 201 more points than 2nd place Bobby Labonte.
- Jeff Gordon, the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion score 364 more points than 2nd place Mark Martin.
Because of these lopsided victories, there was no excitement over who would win the NASCAR Championship come seasons end.
- Money. NASCAR’s popularity has been on the rise over the last several years. For this trend to continue it was important to have the race season end with a climactic finish. Competition for television ratings and advertising dollars are tougher in the fall due to the start of the NFL season. NASCAR needed a way to lure race fans to stay loyal to the NASCAR race broadcast over the football game.
HOW THE CHASE FOR THE NEXTEL CUP WORKS
NASCAR’s Chase For The Nextel Cup actually breaks the race season into two segments. The first begins at the first race of the year and continues through the 26th race. This segment has been dubbed the ‘Race to the Chase’.
During the ‘Race to the Chase’ (the first 26 races), all the standard rules for race points and lead lap bonus points apply. The goal of every driver is to be in the top 12 in race points. This makes them eligible to participate in the ‘Chase for the Nextel Cup’ and ultimately, the Nextel Cup Championship.
Each driver will have their points adjusted to 5,000. Additionally, each driver will be awarded 10 points for each race win during the previous 26 races.
For example, if you are in the top 12 and have won 3 races during the first 26 races, your points total is 5030.
SEASON ENDING CLIMAX
In view of the three reasons I listed above the NASCAR points system change to the ‘Chase for the Nextel Cup’ format has been a tremendous success. The last 3 Championship season have proven it out.
- Kurt Busch, the 2004 Nextel Cup Champion, won 3 races and beat out 2nd place Jimmie Johnson by 8 points.
- Tony Stewart, the 2005 Nextel Cup Champion, won 5 races and beat out 2nd place Greg Biffle (and 3rd place Carl Edwards) by 35 points.
- Jimmie Johnson, the 2006 Nextel Cup Champion, won 5 races and beat out 2nd place Matt Kenseth by 56 points.