NASCAR: Bonus Points Are The Key To Improving The Season And Chase

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Sometimes the answer really is simple and in the case of NASCAR, more bonus points is the answer to the question of how to make the season better.

When it comes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the “win and in” format has provided an emphasis on winning.  It has also – for drivers that win – created a situation where a win is the only valuable result until the Chase begins.  A win brings three bonus points for the first round of the Chase.  Anything else?  Nothing.

So what can be done about that?  NASCAR drivers have some thoughts.  Surely this quote from Brad Keselowski will be well-circulated shortly.

Keselowski, who has two victories this season, admits an early win can give a driver a new perspective on the regular season.

"“I think clearly the sport is lacking some motivation once you’ve won a race,’’ Keselowski told reporters Monday at Team Penske’s shop. “I don’t think there’s any question that most of the competitors in the sport feel like that is not advantageous for a product we’re trying to put on and have floated some ideas to level that back out that maybe some people will like and maybe some won’t. We’ll have to see."

The main idea that seems to be gaining traction is to reward the driver who leads the points after Richmond with a bye into the second round of the Chase.  I don’t think that idea is bad, but I don’t think it goes far enough.  Why only give the top three or four drivers in the standing something to compete for, rather than all of them?

Can I offer a solution?  Let’s call back to the original concept of the Chase and give the drivers bonus points for their points finish.  Keep the bonus points for wins.  Keep the “win and in” format.  But let’s give the reason for every driver to try to score as many points as they can in every race.

How could it work?  After Richmond, give the first-place driver 15 bonus points, then 14 for 2nd, 13 for 3rd, down to the driver who makes the Chase with the fewest points getting zero.  If you apply that to the 2015 season, leaving Richmond and headed to the first race of the Chase, these would have been the standings*.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.15.59 AM
Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.15.59 AM /

*Yes, I get the “the guys would have raced differently”-point.  That still would have been a good thing.

You want to reward guys for a good season?  If your goal is to simply finish in the top-12 in points to get to the second round, that means that Johnson and Logano would have a 19-point head start over 13th-place Ryan Newman.  I think that is perfectly reasonable, given that Logano outscored Newman by 210 points in the first 26 races of 2015.  You want to emulate other sports and their playoff structures?  This gives Logano – the equivalent of a 13-3 NFL team or 60-22 NBA team with his season – a real bonus…something where it would take a colossal meltdown over three races for him to get eliminated from the Chase.  It also gives a Jamie McMurray – who led Paul Menard by 47 points after Richmond – a tangible advantage over drivers that he outperformed over 26 races.

Honestly, I would carry over the bonus points through each round of the Chase, too.  (Except for the finale at Homestead…start everyone at zero there, just like the Super Bowl.)  Reset the points bonus for positions 1-12 after the second round, and 1-8 after the third round.  If a 2014 Ryan Newman (who, to be fair, was 8th in points after Richmond) is going to come from the tail end of the Chase to make the finale, make him have nine fantastic races to earn it.

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Adding more bonus points would give the best drivers incentive to race hard all year long (while also removing some (all?) of the “we experimented today and it is OK we ran 22nd because we learned stuff for the Chase” that the early-season race-winners often do.)  It would also give the season’s best teams over 26 races a buffer to survive the small three-race sample sizes of the Chase, and increase the possibility of a real “upset” by giving the weakest Chase teams a larger hill to climb.  I think it would be an immediate improvement to the entire NASCAR season.