SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/In Depth

Points system, Chase for the Cup, race duration

NASCAR's biggest change going into the 2011 season was adopting a simplified points system for all three of its top series, which officials hope enables fans to calculate easily what drivers' results mean for season standings.
The system will award the winning driver 43 points, the second-place driver 42 points, and drop with each finishing spot before awarding the last-place driver one point.
We asked our panelists about the points system and other competition changes over the years.
Six of seven panelists favored the new points system. One panelist wanted to see NASCAR award points at the midpoint of the race to encourage competition.
Some panelists were insulted by the new points system, saying NASCAR must not think they know how to count. At least three disapproved of how NASCAR communicated the change.
Six of seven panelists disliked the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the postseason format NASCAR introduced in 2004.

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Panelists suggested adding incentives that would encourage closer competition throughout an entire race.

The New Points System
What was your reaction to the points change?

Bo: I like the new move. It makes it tighter.

Dan: It will place more emphasis on winning for those last two race spots, and I'm interested in that because I attend the Richmond race every fall each year.

Kevin: When I first saw it, I thought they were trying to say all of us NASCAR fans are stupid and can't add larger numbers.

Terri: They do that a lot, don't they?

Kevin: After I got over the initial insult factor and started thinking about it, I don't see much difference between this [system] and last year's. It just makes it easier to count points. One of the things I dislike about this point system is it doesn't put enough emphasis on winning. I did have a thought as I was coming here. If you take this new points system and add some incentives throughout the race, like maybe you at a minimum halfway give the leader a point, that's going to give them a reason to be more competitive at the midpoint of a race. You'd have that to look forward to as well as the end of the race and maybe you could even take it to even every quarter of the race. Give out an extra point just to give them a reason to race.

Terri: I don't think it's going to make a big difference. … My intelligence is rather insulted, not only by some of the things that have been done but by the communication. Change management seems to be an enormous challenge for that leadership and I don't understand why.


COMPARING
THE FAN BASES
ESPN Sports Poll surveys sports fans about their level of interest in specific sports. The charts below show the percentage of U.S. sports fans who are either casual (at least a little bit interested) or avid (very interested) followers of these sports:

Casual

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

NFL

68.9%

70.6%

71.0%

67.1%

67.0%

MLB

58.7%

61.8%

61.4%

58.7%

57.3%

NBA

48.6%

50.8%

51.7%

48.9%

47.7%

NASCAR

42.1%

40.2%

41.8%

36.1%

35.9%

NHL

31.6%

32.8%

34.4%

33.8%

34.7%

MLS

26.8%

29.5%

28.6%

27.8%

29.7%

Avid

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

NFL

32.1%

34.8%

34.0%

31.9%

32.5%

MLB

19.6%

21.7%

21.2%

20.1%

19.0%

NBA

14.3%

15.7%

15.7%

15.3%

15.2%

NASCAR

15.1%

14.9%

14.3%

11.8%

10.5%

NHL

6.5%

6.9%

7.9%

7.5%

8.3%

MLS

5.9%

6.5%

6.6%

5.5%

6.4%

Kevin: Whatever they're going to do they need to do it and leave it alone.

Did anyone else have a problem with the points change from a communications perspective?

Bo: I'm just so used to NASCAR waiting until three weeks before Daytona to make this kind of call. It's par for the course.

Dan: I'm of the mind that NASCAR's been too hard on itself in a lot of respects. The more they gimmick around with these rules, they get into this whole battle again between their legitimacy against other sports.

Does it hurt the sport's legitimacy that the announcements are made the way they are?

Helen: It drives me crazy. Football has not changed. Nobody's had to explain the rules each [football] season. With NASCAR, I've got to relearn the rules every season.

Terri: What they're trying to do is correct in two years mistakes that have been building up for six or seven. Change in and of itself I don't have a problem with, but … it's got to be managed. There are whole organizations built around change management, and they're wretched at it. And their communication is wretched.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship
Regarding the Chase, do you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down? And why?

Helen: The Chase has made the last 10 races not matter to anyone else in the field. It's just 12 people we have to look at. I don't like the Chase. It's just ruined things.

Susan: I'm a thumbs down on the Chase. I think you just do straight points the entire season because that's what happens: You just spend the end of the season following 12 drivers.

Bo: I'm thumbs down on the Chase. I'd be thumbs up if they changed the racetracks. If you changed the racetracks, you'd probably change the outcomes and some of the competitiveness.

Dan: I'm a thumbs up. I'm very much in favor of it. It doubles my pleasure because you almost get two seasons. You get a regular season and then you get in theory a playoff as well.

Shorter Races and a Shorter Season
People have talked about shorter races and a shorter season. Where do you all come down on those ideas?

Dan: I don't want to shorten races or shorten the season because it's the sport I like a lot. If you're going to shorten races, you better cut that ticket price.

Kevin: When they started talking about shortening the races, they tried to push that off as the network trying to drive them to do that. It's almost like they're trying to shorten the races to get to the crux of what the real problem is: Everyone wants to try to get to the end of the race so it can start getting competitive and be worth watching. I just think that's an attempt to fix something that's broken that's not going to really fix what's broken.

Susan: I've never wanted shorter races. Who would ever propose, "These baseball games, let's make them eight innings. Let's make this football game three quarters?" It's ridiculous to me.

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