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Radical changes to Sprint Cup scoring

27 January 2011

NASCAR's Sprint Cup scoring system has been something of a black art ever since it was introduced in 1975 that has confused teams, fans and media alike, and this week NASCAR confirmed long-running rumours that the scoring is to be radically simplified for 2011.

"Many of our most loyal fans don't fully understand the points system we have used to date," said NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. "We are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow."

As expected, the system will now award 43pts to the winner, 42pts to second, 41pts for third right down to 1pt for last place in the 43-car field. There would also be three bonus points to the winner, a bonus point for leading any lap and another for leading the most laps. That would bring the maximum number of points on offer for a single event to 48pts.

The new points system will also be used in other NASCAR championships, so in the Camping World Truck Series the last place driver will gain 8pts because the field in that series numbers only 36 trucks.

As well as making the system much more transparent, it will also mean that scoring is much closer throughout the year and work against anyone gathering an unassailable lead that might impact on competitiveness and dampen fan interest.

"The fans tell us that winning matters the most with them," said France. "This makes every race count leading into the 26th race of the season at Richmond, when we set the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup."

The system used to qualify for the Chase will also be changed, with the top ten qualifying through their points standing after Richmond, but the final two positions going to the two drivers not already qualified who have scored the most race wins in the season to date. If no one outside the top ten had any race wins then the positions would default to the points standings instead.

The drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their points reset to 2000. The top ten drivers will also gain 3pts per win from the season to date, but the two "wild card" qualifiers will not gain this bonus.

Other announcements unveiled at the Sprint Media Tour event NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. include a new qualifying procedure that will see the running order set upon practice speeds, with those with the slowest times going first. In the event of weather cancelling qualifying then the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds; if weather cancels the practice sessions then the starting lineup will be set by owner points.

The number of sets of tyres available to teams for practice and qualifying is to be reduced from six to five; the teams return four sets to Goodyear in exchange for their race allotment, in which the number of sets will vary according to the planned length of the race.

NASCAR also confirmed the introduction of the new "closed loop fuelling system" self-ventilated dump cans which means that the catch-can man - often seen as the most "vulnerable" of the over-the-wall pit crew team - is no longer required, so only six team members will be allowed car-side during pit stops rather than the previous seven.

And the rule change allowing drivers to score championship points in only one of the three NASCAR series (Sprint, Nationwide and Truck) was also officially announced. Drivers will have to choose which series they will earn points from, but can still compete in multiple series and contribute to the owners' title fights in series where they're not competing for a drivers' title.

However, NASCAR have not announced a systematic shortening of race lengths, which has been the subject of much debate in the last week. Speaking at the Sprint Media Tour event, Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again called again for a shortening of most of the Cup races and in particular the season's two 500-mile events at Pocono.

"The Pocono races are entirely too long," Earnhardt said. "I think NASCAR should shoot for a three-hour or three-hour and 15-minute televised event, and try to fit into that sort of time frame." He conceded that "It can't be done at all times. I understand. I think you've got to have races like the 600-miler [Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte] and the Daytona 500 and things like that."

Earnhard was critical of the 2010 decision to boost the spring event at Phoenix from 312 to 378 laps. "Phoenix was a good race. Adding that little bit to it didn't make it better. It only made it longer; it only made it tougher to watch, tougher to witness."

France said in response that some races were already being shortened and that more were planned. "There will be alterations as we go down the road to shorten them up by a little bit. [There are] no expectations from us to make any drastic changes, but 100 miles changes a complexion of a race," he pointed out. "We're going to continue to look at that."

The debate about race length was sparked by comments earlier int he week from Fox Sports chairman David Hill, who was quoted as saying "I think that a lot of the races are too long. I think probably three hours would be ideal."

Earnhardt's team owner, Rick Hendrick, agreed with Hill and added: "I think the season ought to be shorter. It's just so long.

"Football players, I've got some friends, and they get to take months off. We get back from Vegas [at the end of the season], we start testing, and we're working harder in the offseason than in the regular season. If we had three more months off, I think the fans would be eager to watch it again."

However Hendrick admitted there was unlikely to be a shortened season, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. pointed out that "the financial rewards from having the season as it is are too great," adding: "People's careers and opportunities are involved. So I don't believe we'll ever see a shorter season. But I do believe that in my lifetime I will see the shorter races across the board at 80, 75 percent of the events."


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