Bidding farewell to the 'Good Points Day'
March 05, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
With emphasis on wins, solid second- or third-place runs no longer satisfying to drivers
We gather here today to say goodbye to an old friend.
It has been a part of our lives for decades now, and its regular Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon visits were often as predicable as the tide. It was a meticulous sort, neat and orderly and good with numbers, never causing much of a fuss. At the same time, it often had a lackluster quality that was impossible to ignore. Not to speak ill of the departed, but it wasn't always very exciting to have around -- sometimes when it appeared on your doorstep, you knew just how things were going to unfold.
That said, it had a heck of a run. At its height, it could crown champions, dictate the course of seasons, determine the rise and fall of the best in their field. It once held a power that was unmistakable, an authority that was absolute. But over time, its influence ebbed. The first signs of its demise became evident in 2004, and over the past decade its condition has steadily deteriorated. This past Sunday, while on a business trip to Arizona, the end finally came.
And so today, we gather to remember: the Good Points Day.
The Good Points Day first came into this world in 1949, and in its earliest years seemed a mere footnote to everything else happening around it. In those first days, season-long NASCAR championships were often secondary in the minds of many drivers who preferred chasing the biggest trophies and paydays they could find. Some of the best ever to race ignored it entirely, competing instead in partial schedules, going solely after victories. Had they acquiesced to the Good Points Day, they almost certainly would have won more titles. But those didn't matter as much back then. They soon would.
Slowly but surely, the Good Points Day consolidated power, and by 1972 -- the beginning of the sport's modern era, which introduced a shorter schedule and a championship format that all but required drivers to compete in every race -- the takeover was complete. Suddenly, the Good Points Day meant everything. Injured drivers would tape open their swollen eyes, affix their broken arm to the steering wheel, do anything for the Good Points Day. They would emerge from their cars and praise the Good Points Day. Winning was still the ultimate goal, of course. But over time winning became much harder to do, and the Good Points Day became the cornerstone of every championship run.
As is the case with any kind of power, there were critics. Fans and track operators often derided it for having too much control. And yet, its reign continued unquestioned, seemingly everlasting. Benny Parsons won the premier-series championship in 1973 with just a single race win, the same season David Pearson -- running a partial schedule -- visited Victory Lane 11 times. In 1996, Terry Labonte took the crown with two wins while Jeff Gordon finished second with 10. In 2003, Matt Kenseth claimed the title with one victory while Ryan Newman won eight times. The Good Points Day enjoyed absolute authority -- and then, almost overnight, its supremacy began to slip.
It eroded a little at first. In 2004 NASCAR implemented the first version of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which reset the standings for the final 10 races, and suddenly a Good Points Day didn't matter quite as much as it used to. It 2007 the Chase was expanded from 10 to 12 drivers, and for the Good Points Day, the writing was on the wall. "Winning is what this sport is all about," chairman Brian France said then. "Nobody likes to see drivers content to finish in the top 10." Four years later two Wild Card berths were added, with preference going to drivers outside the top 10 with the most race wins. The Good Points Day's breathing became a little raspy, and it began to have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
By this past January, its condition had become critical. NASCAR announced a revised 16-driver Chase, for which a race victory would virtually ensure admission. Furthermore, the playoff itself was split into four elimination rounds, with race winners guaranteed to advance from one to the next. The demise of the Good Points Day was imminent, and last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway it was complete. Brad Keselowski finished third on the 1-mile oval, without his regular crew chief no less, an effort that once would have been held up as a testament to the Good Points Day. But no more.
"Under this system, wins are only things that count," the 2012 series champion said. "Last year you would have said seconds and thirds are great, but this year they're not. They're so-so."
He wasn't alone. Joey Logano was third on what proved the final restart with nine laps remaining, and he was hardly content with that position -- as he showed by tapping the back of Kevin Harvick's car, getting the leader a touch loose, and trying to slide by on the inside. It didn't work, and Harvick pulled away to finish off a dominant victory, and Logano lost a spot to his Team Penske stable mate Keselowski in the process. But afterward he had no regrets, another sure sign of the Good Points Day's passing.
"I figured I might as well go for it," Logano said. "With a win being so important, you might as well go for it, and I tried to stuff it in there three-wide and gave up a spot by doing that. But overall, it is all about the win."
Indeed now it is. Win to get into the Chase, win to advance in the Chase, likely win to win the Chase -- the dynamic has shifted, and like many things which have come before, the Good Points Day has found itself passed by. For the better part of six decades it reigned supreme, in the bigger picture often managing to trump even the drivers celebrating in Victory Lane. But as Phoenix made clear, drivers bow down to the Good Points Day no more. In the arid conditions of the southwest desert, it withered and faded away.
So now, we wish the Good Points Day farewell. For all its faults, it was there week after week, as omnipresent in this sport as tires and fuel. As polarizing as it could be, its legacy remains in all the champions it helped to crown. The Good Points Day may not always be remembered fondly, but it will never be forgotten. The Good Points Day, 1949-2014. May it rest in peace.