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NASCAR points changes possible

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By Roger Diez

Several times in the past few years I have discussed NASCAR’s point system, usually with modest suggestions for improvements.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the sanctioning body would actually consider changing the system that was born on the back of a cocktail napkin in 1975. Well, once again I’ve been proven wrong. That’s twice recently! I’m slipping.

Of course it’s not a done deal yet, and given the glacial pace at which NASCAR moves on most changes it may never happen. But at least a point system revision is under consideration. The big difference to the current system is a proposed “playoff” that would amount to a 10-race run-off for the title at the end of the season.

Under the proposed scheme, the top 10 drivers in points would be locked in with 10 races to go, and those 10 drivers would begin with zero run-off points each. The scheme would make the first 26 events of a 36 race season essentially qualifying heat races, with the 10 at the top advancing to the main event in the fall.

This scheme would more closely realign NASCAR’s format to that of the National Football League, the goal toward which the stock car series aspires. It would create a playoff atmosphere similar to other sports, and would coincide with the NFL and college football seasons. Can you say “ratings war?”

NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said NASCAR hopes to have all its plans evaluated by mid-January. “It’s definitely more than a trial balloon,” he noted.

The current points system awards consistency. If it rewarded winning, Ryan Newman would have been sitting on the stage at the Waldorf last week instead of Matt Kenseth. But Newman’s six DNF (did not finish) results and eight similar outcomes for Kurt Busch relegated them to sixth and eighth respectively in the points despite their notches in the win column.

Another proposed change is to give the same number of points to finishers from 35th back, in order to discourage teams from putting rolling junk piles on the track in the hopes of moving up a position or two. I’m all for that.

On the other hand, the current point system produced incredibly tight races and close championship finishes in the Busch and Craftsman Trucks divisions this year, which is just the kind of suspense NASCAR wants to maintain to season’s end. Of course, the competition tends to tail off much less deeply into the field in these two divisions than in the Cup series.

Just as an example, if the proposed system had been in place this year, Jimmy Johnson would have won the championship over Jeff Gordon, with Johnson finishing top three in the final six races of the season. Kenseth would have finished seventh.

Interestingly, Johnson (among others) would rather not see changes. “I understand what they’re trying to achieve, trying to make it more exciting,” Johnson opined. “What do you do? Do you send the other teams home and just let the top-10 teams run? It’s not fair, in my opinion. I’m not in favor of it.”

Local Outlaw Kart racers are still at it in California. Carson City racer Kellcy Bell is leading the Beginner Box Stock points at Red Bluff and made a clean sweep of the division last Saturday including the A main victory and fast time for the sixth straight weekend. Big sister Mackena Bell qualified fourth in the 125cc class, won the B main, and converted that into a sixth-place finish in the A main. She currently sits 10th in points in her division. Tom Purcell parlayed a third-place qualifying effort into a fourth place finish in the Intermediate Open A main.

If you drive a European car or an American performance car (like a Corvette), you might want to stop by and talk to Bill Henderson at Sierra Autosport in Reno. They’re now at their new location at 4915 Brookside Court in Reno, just off Rock Boulevard and across from the Channel 11 TV station. Bill gave me a brief tour the other day, and they’ve got all sorts of interesting machinery there including a 1949 Jaguar sedan (maybe the biggest Jag ever made) and a Rolls Royce pickup conversion! Ever see a $200,000 El Camino?

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.