Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's the points, not the Chase in need of fixing

I am sitting here in the closet they call a media center at Phoenix International Raceway, four hours before the start of today’s Checker Auto Parts 500, shaking my head.
A racing writer’s daily ritual, whether they admit this or not, is to check the various racing web sites to see what everyone else is writing about. A NASCAR reporter who tells you he or she doesn’t check jayski.com, for instance, is just a liar.
As has been the case for the past couple of weeks, today’s digest of stories on Jay’s site includes a load of people complaining about how the Chase for the Nextel Cup is flawed because Tony Stewart is winning races but isn’t in the Chase.
I had to be at the track here at 7 a.m. local time to be on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” show to discuss the same topic. In fairness to the ESPN folks, especially reporter Mike Massaro’s piece around which the discussion was built, they at least accurately explored the various sides of the matter.
On the show, I tried to make the point that the real problem people seem to have with the way NASCAR picks a champion has next to nothing to do with the Chase format itself. The flaw is, as it has always been, with the points system itself.
Stewart has won three of the past six races but, because he did not make the Chase cut after 26 races, he can’t win the championship. But if there were no Chase, Stewart would have been mathematically eliminated from championship contention DESPITE the fact he won at Texas last weekend and would have been practically eliminated weeks earlier.
The Chase hasn’t changed that a bit. What the Chase has done is make more people more relevant for more weeks in the championship discussion. Under the old format, by Labor Day the title race usually had been winnowed down to three or four teams, and it was only on rare occasions that more than two teams were really part of the discussion in the season’s final weeks.
The Chase keeps 12 to 15 teams, at least, in the picture until the end of September and keeps at least a handful of racers in contention until after Halloween. There could, and most likely will, soon come a year when a driver in the Chase has the kind of fall Stewart is having and wraps things up before we go to Homestead. But unless something very odd happens here this afternoon, the Chase is going to be three-for-three in doing what it was designed to do, and that’s carry the championship battle into the season’s final week.
The argument that drivers who win multiple races should fare better in the points standings is every bit as valid now as it was under the old system. But again, that’s not a Chase issue. It’s a points issue. And until the way points are tabulated is changed, the Chase is going to feel the effects of that issue.
First place should be significantly more rewarding than second place, and the gap between those two positions should be wider than the gap between any other in the finishing order. Make winning races more important toward winning championships and the racers in the sport will adapt to that system, Chase or no Chase.
There’s no question that Stewart’s team is one of the best in NASCAR. That’s never been an issue. But that team had 26 changes to make the Chase this year, and it failed.
It’s like a golfer playing in a major championship. If he shoots 86 on the first day, he can shoot 66 on the second day and still miss the cut.
The difference in NASCAR, of course, is that the teams that don’t make the “cut” still get to play in the later rounds. The analogy may not be perfect, but the fact remains that a golfer’s bad shots count just as much as his good ones do, and that’s how it is – and ought to be – in racing as well.
There was a movie several years about starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore called “Disclosure,” based on a Michael Crichton book. Douglas’s character is basically set up to take the fall for a failure with his company’s latest major project, and an anonymous tipster keeps advising him not to worry so much about what’s happening to him and to instead spend his time and energy on fixing the problem that’s at the root of everything to start with.
“Solve the problem,” is the message Douglas keeps getting from his anonymous source. That’s a good message for NASCAR, too. The problem is not the Chase, it’s the points. Solve that, and the Chase will take care of itself.

25 comments:

StewartFan said...

I betcha Joe Gibbs wishes they paid out with the old system. The difference between 11th and 4th place (for example) will probably be a huge chunk of change, even with the million dollar bonus.

Meeklo said...

David,

I dont know if you read this, but you guys in the media need to do a better job critising Nascar about bogus debris yellows. Its bullshit.

David Poole said...

Stewartfan -- There is no $1 million bonus. The 11th place finisher has money added to his points payout so he wins a minimum of $1 million. Given that 11th would likely pay $800,000 or so to start with, the "bonus" is more like $200,000. But the larger point is that if Stewart had run well enough in the first 26 races to make the Chase, he'd be in position to rake in about $5 million right now.

Gvav1 said...

Good blogating DP...My driver Harvick just won in the cookie car. He's had a great year in the #3...I mean the #2.9.

Anonymous said...

Well written David. I'm a Tony fan but as you say, under the old system he'd be out of it. People need to quit whining and face the facts. This is the system NASCAR operates under at the moment. Is it perfect, no. But it's the system. Tony himself admits that if he were in the hunt for the championship he wouldn't drive the same way, he'd be more concerned with point.
Sidenote: I really enjoy reading your work. Keep up the good work.

Monkeesfan said...

People who defend the Chase keep missing the point. Tony Stewart may not have won the title this year under a normal points system, but under such he would have rocketed from 11th to fourth in points (Incidentally, Matt Kenseth would be 11 points out of the lead under the old format right now). The whole arbitrary lock-out of drivers from the top ten in points in the final ten races is wrong, period.

The Chase format has done nothing to make a better points race. Far from making more people relevent to the championship, it's only contrived to do so. Far from carrying more drivers into the battle for the championship in the final race, it's merely contrived to do so because there is NO prospect of the point lead changing hands in the final race, and there never has been under the Chase. People will point to Kurt Busch's 2004 Miami race, but that's just hype; there was no realistic chance he would lose the title.

David is right that it's more a basic points structure issue, but to absolve the phony playoff format this way is wrong. To fix that problem, not just winning but leading laps needs to pay so much more in bonus points that it becomes impossible to win the championship without the most wins and most laps led - to the point that no driver can afford to let any one driver start winning or leading a lot.

Anonymous said...

The chase is ridiculous but let's make it even more absurd after 26 races. Separate the top 35 by 5 point increments and let the race for the championship.Tell the other 8 that they suck and aren't worthy of the chase. That's basicly what they do now instead of taking the 43 fastest qualifiers.Or maybe take up a collection for a brain transplant for Brian France. Sure is tiresome listening to the overhyped chase crap that over 52% of the fans hate.The best fix would be to send Brian and his chase to a deserted island.

Anonymous said...

Leave the chase format the same, tweek the points a little and change the prize to top three positions only. The chasers finishing 4th to 10th would revert to the regular season system and get paid according. An example would be this year were the 11th place team after 26 races could actualy race their way to a fourthplace year end finish. 15 point bonus per win, 10 point bonus for qualifying, 5 point bonus for leading most laps. No points for leading a lap. ALL Debris cautions will be run under " frozen field positions" and the pits closed. Any car entering the pits will be held until the green flag falls.

Anonymous said...

Does any body think JJ would have been contented to ride behind Harvick if Harvick was scoring 15 bonus points for the win and 10 bonus points for leading most laps?

Kenorv said...

I'm with David on this. I'm fine with a chase format. What needs to change is the way points are awarded. If Tony Stewart is racing harder for wins than the drivers that are running for a championship then something is wrong. The reason that the chase was created was because Kenseth just "points raced" for the last half of the season in 2003. Right now I don't see any difference except than instead of one guy "points racing" for a championship, you have 10 guys doing that.

I think that they need to award 25-50 points more to the winner. Make winning really mean something. The 5 point bonus that they added a couple years ago isn't enough. They also need to fix the backend of the points system. Everyone from 31st on back gets 0 points. That should keep all those wrecked cars from getting back on the track. They've already been in one caution let's keep them from creating more cautions.

Monkeesfan said...

kenorv, they don't need to change the backend of the points system, they just need to park cars that go to the garage area for repairs.

Mike said...

I too agree that the points needs addressing. Award more points for a win, but also create larger disparities for the top five and top ten. Create more incentive to finish in the top five. One thing that should not happen is a seperate Chasers points system. That would only invite more points racing.

For example, say Jimmie Johnson would get 10 points for being the top Chaser in a race. It doesn't matter if he is running 10th or first, he gets the same number of points.

That's the change I fear most.

Anonymous said...

I think fixing the back end of the points *would* help. Not just with wrecked cars coming back out, but moreso with "good" teams getting taken out by "bad luck".

You know, things like random mechanical failures, or getting caught in somebody else's wreck.

The bad teams are still going to finish in the bottom half of each race, and they'll still filter to the bottom of the standings. But with equal points from 31 (or so) on back, the top teams will be bunched more closely in points.

Anonymous said...

I can't think of anything better than DP's idea of giving 500 points bonuses to drivers for their first win in the first 26 races, and another such bonus for the first win in the chase.

It not only puts a premium on winning at least once, but in the chase, it makes it more interesting if someone who is outside the chase goes on a tear (like Stewart has done) and takes an opportunity to get the bonus from a chaser with each "spoiler" win.

Regarding the other end of the field, level off the points somewhere in the thirties to minimize the junk on the track at the end of the race. This would reduce the number of late debris cautions. Also, if there's going to be a green-white-checker finish, park everyone who isn't on the lead lap.

Monkeesfan said...

500 points for a first win? Why are we supposed to value a first win over other wins?

And they don't need to level out the back end of the points array. If we're so concerned about wrecked cars coming back out to recoup some points, then the sport needs to simply park all cars that must go to the garage area during the race.

Anonymous said...

The only forthcoming changes to the chase or the points system in general will the result of careful scrutinity by Pope Brian to ascertain how he can put more money into his kingdom. NA$CAR sucks thanks to Brian, the village idiot. I mean come on, have you see the COT? Looks just like a damn IROC car doesn't it? Why keep up the pretense of "stock car" racing. Why not call it what it is. Boring, engineered to death hunks of sheet metal with no character and talking head, politically correct drivers that love to drink from Pope Brian's trough. Pitiful. NASCAR used to be one hell of a sport, but no more. Thank you Pope Brian.

Anonymous said...

The Chase is bogus. Stewart's climb in the points would have been some kind of record but we'll never hear about it now. There are thirty-three other cars out there racing that might as well all be numberless, gray and with faceless robots driving them for all the tv coverage they get.

Anonymous said...

DP's point in advocating a 500-point bonus for the first win is to ensure that getting a win is valued more than it already is. Under that system, unless a few drivers began winning all the races in a year, you'd pretty much need at least one to make the chase. That's not the case now.

As for the back-end of the field, there are a lot of cars that are 1) bad to begin with and 2) get worse because of wrecks that don't have to go to the garage during the race. It's a bit silly to have a race changed entirely by somebody who is ten laps down and have a part fall off. Also, it would shorten the races.

Interesting that USA today had NASCARs troubles front and center today. Someone should tell WonderFrance that the bloom is off the rose.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous,

If you want to value a win, then make winning the most races the decisive point of the championship. Awarding more points for one win is stupid.

On the back-end of the field, again, if cars have to go to the garage during the race, park them.

I read USA Today's piece, and it takes NASCAR off the hook on the decline in interest. Nowhere does the piece mention, except in passing, the near-disappearence of lead changes in the races; nowhere does the piece mention the monopoly of multicar teams as a problem for the sport; and Eddie Gossage's cheapshot at NBC over "tanking" in promotion was self-deceiving stupidity. Then there were some stupid comments that the season is too long - that's bull; the season needs more, not fewer, races, though it can afford to cancel the All-Star Race; if they're going to run it at all, move it from Charlotte to Talladega because that's the only track left with real racing. And the piece totally ignores speedway fratricide - the sport had no right to shut down North Wilkesboro or Rockingham and it has no right to threaten Pocono, Dover, or any other track that's not part of Bruton Smith's SMI empire or ISC. It should be obvious that speedway fratricide has alienated a lot of fans, and all for no reason.

The reality is the sport needs 40-plus lead changes per race; it needs to break up the multicar teams NOW, not later; it needs to knock off this self-deception about teams as independent contractors, it needs to step in and directly restrict how much teams can spend and how many cars an organizatiuon can field, and it needs to abort going to New York City and Seattle because those are useless markets; Kentucky, the Carolinas, etc. are the real markets for NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we can come up with a formula to determine how good a race was. How about this for a first shot:

X + (A/2) + (Y/3) + (Z/5) + (1/M) = R

Where

X = Number of lead changes
A = Number of position changes
Y = Number of cautions
Z = Number of cars on lead lap at the end
M = margin of victory in seconds,

and

R = Quality of the race.

I know there are a lot of other things missing (great pit stops, three wide racing, etc), but it's a start. Anyone wanna refine it?

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