NASCAR's new points system scores big with drivers

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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Many fans still aren't sure about NASCAR's new plan to set the field for the Chase. A great many media members are confused by why there was a need to change the championship points distribution system and what if any impact it will have on the sport. But there's one group completely on board with all the changes NASCAR announced this week -- the drivers.

There is a nearly unanimous approval about the modifications from the people who will compete behind the wheel.

Five-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson thinks the new points system will 'help people know what's going on.' (Getty Images)  
Five-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson thinks the new points system will 'help people know what's going on.' (Getty Images)  
The 43-1 point distribution that will replace the higher denomination system in place since 1975 is NASCAR's attempt at making things simpler for fans, who will in turn have a clearer connection to the championship battle.

"Our goal was, with this change, was to give a fan an opportunity whether that fan is 5 years old or 85 years old, an opportunity to sit in the grandstand without technology or anything ... being able to look at the race track and in their mind understand the fact that one position on that track is worth one point," said NASCAR president Mike Helton.

"And we think they've got a better opportunity to get more engaged in the race by being able to understand it."

Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon believes the new plan will do exactly that and in fact admits even he didn't completely understand how the previous system worked.

"There are times when I've been confused by the points system," Gordon said. "I think a way to simplify it would be good. I think a way to connect the fans to it. ... I think they're making it a little more relative to the positions on the track.

"I think it could make it easier for commentators to talk about and analyze in the championship battle, especially as tight as the battles are now with the Chase."

Some drivers think the easier math and a more straight forward distribution of points will enhance not only the fans' experience sitting in the stands, but those watching at home on television.

"I think the main goal is to make sure everyone understands the points system better," Martin Truex Jr. said. "It will be easier to follow for the fans, the television announcers and anyone involved in the sport.

"The way it worked before, if you were watching or following a Chase race, they had to have a ticker on the screen to show the points because no one could figure it out. It was complicated. Depending on positions, there could be three points or five points separating positions."

Should the championship come down to the wire, like it did last season at Homestead, where three drivers had a shot at coming away with the title, the simpler points system will increase the drama according to Jimmie Johnson.

"Mike Helton brought up a point that if at Homestead, we had a very compelling event taking place, and the points were constantly shuffling around, and unless you were watching on television to see the calculation on the top of the screen, you really didn't know what was going on," Johnson said.

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"So if fans don't have a scanner on, and it's just a casual fan watching from the grandstands, they had no clue where the drama lay on the track. This would be a step in that direction, to help people know what's going on."

Conspiracy theorists point to Johnson's fifth straight championship last season as the impetus for NASCAR to change the system. But in reality, although the numbers are different, the end result in succeeding will be the same -- consistency.

Johnson's uncanny knack of being consistent, especially in the final 10 races of the season during the Chase, has been the key to his unprecedented string of titles and his team owner Rick Hendrick doesn't believe that will change with a new system in place.

"It is coincidental, isn't it? The first I heard about it, I started looking at how this will affect us," said Hendrick about the points move coming in the wake of Johnson championship No. 5.

"Really it comes out about the same, but I haven't had enough time to really study it. It looks to me if you're consistently near the top and have a guy that could win and he has a bad couple of races, you could be in trouble."

Bonus points for leading a lap and the most laps -- which were five apiece under the previous system -- remain in place but each now carry a single point award. Not everyone was pleased with keeping those in play including team owner Richard Petty.

"That has nothing to do with the race," said Petty, who overall is a fan of the easier to understand system. "We're the only sport there is that gives points or gives relief for leading a race or winning a race. Basketball, the last shot has got to count. You could lead the whole ballgame or golf game, and get beat on the last deal and that's it, you're beat.

"That's the way it ought to be in NASCAR. They ought to make it so simple a 10-year-old can keep up with points."

In its quest to find a younger demographic among a rapidly aging fan base, NASCAR is hoping its new point system proves Petty absolutely right.

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