NASCAR Announces New Points Format, Chase Changes, New Qualifying Rules
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Citing the need to make the championship format "simpler," NASCAR chairman Brian France formally introduced a new points system for the three national touring series Wednesday and also announced slight changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff format and race qualifying procedures.
As has been rumored during the last two weeks, the new points payout will be 43-to-1 -- paying 43 points to the race winner with each position decreasing in one-point intervals, with a single point going to last place in the 43-car fields.
The race winner will also receive a three-point bonus. There are one-point bonuses available for leading one lap and for the driver who leads the most laps, meaning there is a maximum of 48 points available for a race winner who leads the most laps.
"So now everyone will know, when a driver is down by 10 points, that he needs to pass 11 more cars to take the lead in the point standings,'' France told a crowded room of reporters at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte.
"Very much a simple, easy to understand system for us."
In other significant news, France announced the third major change to the Chase playoff format since its inception eight years ago. The top 10 drivers in points after the 26-race regular season will qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. And in an effort to emphasize winning, NASCAR will now make the 11th and 12th place Chase qualifiers the drivers outside the top-10 with the most wins -- giving it a sort of wild-card feel.
The top-10 drivers will be reseeded as before, with a three-point bonus given for each win, compared to the 10-point bonus previously handed out. The 11th and 12th place drivers will be reseeded but will not receive bonus points for their wins.
"These guys are going to be driving like their hair is on fire,'' Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said.
"Give NASCAR credit for placing the emphasis on winning races with the new points system. The points championship should be secondary to winning races week in and week out. If you do that, championships take care of themselves."
"The fans tell us that winning matters the most with them, so we're combining the tradition of consistency in our sport with the excitement that comes along with winning,'' France said.
New qualifying procedures for the Sprint Cup series will take into account practice session times and speeds -- similar to the format currently used in the Camping World Truck Series. Qualifying order will be based on a driver's practice speed from slowest to fastest.
The slowest driver ranked among the top 35 in points will qualify first and the fastest will go out last. The drivers ranked outside the top 35 in points will be grouped together and the order also established in descending rank from the driver with the slowest practice lap to the one with the fastest lap.
If inclement weather cancels qualifying, then the final lineup will be based on practice speeds. If weather cancels practice, then the starting lineup will revert to the points standings as it has in the past.
Joined by all the top NASCAR leadership, France stressed that the sanctioning body is doing what all major sporting leagues are doing in evaluating and tweaking their rules and formats to stay relevant, interesting and competitive.
"Ticket sales are up, enthusiasm is up ... energy levels are up,'' France said. "We finished so strong in 2010, so we are looking forward to a great 2011.''
France's optimism comes despite sagging television ratings and dipping attendance. While he acknowledged the sport's large and largely vocal fan base had expressed the desire for shorter races, a rotating track lineup for the Chase races and more affordable race pricing, he defended the decision to change the points system and championship format instead.
"Everyone is looking to make sure that they're delivering the right championship format, the right regular season that meets the times of the today,'' France said. "That is the nature of big-time sports, to get it right and make sure that we have the right approach in a given time period.''
Added NASCAR president Mike Helton, "Everything we've got is a moving target. It always has been.
"We're always going to look at stuff that we think in our opinion, based on the input we get and the knowledge we've got, and he experience we've got, we're going to make adaptations to it so we make the sport better."
Two-time NASCAR Cup champ Tony Stewart was in the audience and said afterward that he was completely satisfied with the new formats and procedures.
"They get suggestions from everybody, but the good things is they don't just go and make knee-jerk reactions, they go in there calculated,'' said Stewart, owner-driver of the No. 14 Office Depot-Mobil 1 Chevrolet. "The great thing is they are smarter than all of us standing here right now because they are able to look at it from a lot of different perspectives.
"It's very easy to get tunnel vision on a topic and think we're 100 percent right on it, when there's something they always think of. ... The longer I've gone here, the more comfortable and appreciative I am with the leadership here that they don't make calls just to have a reaction. They think it through before they react.''