News & Media

Sabates offers another suggestion to NASCAR

January 24, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Never short on opinions, team minority owner has fresh take on 2011 points

If it's late January, it must be time for the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. And if it's time for that, it must be time for Felix Sabates to say something that will at least get people thinking.

So it was Monday on the first stop of the 29th annual tour, as Sabates -- minority partner in the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates organization -- stated that he knows just what to do to follow through on NASCAR president Mike Helton's proposed mandate to produce a simpler points system. Helton stated that NASCAR was studying the possibility last Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla. He and other NASCAR officials continued to meet with race teams Monday in and around Charlotte, seeking additional input on the idea. That included meetings Monday afternoon with officials from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.

"That system we've got now, I don't think Einstein could figure it out."


Speaking before he was to be part of that meeting, Sabates said that the time for a change to a point system that many have long found confusing had come.

"That system we've got now, I don't think Einstein could figure it out. If there is one of you [in the media] who say you understand that bull----, I say you're crazy, you're lying," Sabates said.

Under the system used through last season, winners of races received 185 base points. The points dispersed to race finishers then went down in varying increments, with the last-place car in the field of 43 entrants receiving 34 points. Various bonus points could be added to a driver's total based on whether he led a lap, or led the most laps.

Under the same system, the top 12 drivers in the standings after the first 26 races qualify for the Chase -- a championship that is then decided amongst them over the final 10 races of the season. The points were reset at the beginning of the Chase, with race winners over the first 26 races receiving 10 bonus points per race victory accumulated and seeded accordingly.

Sabates said he likes the idea of giving 43 points plus additional bonus points to the winner of a race, and has heard that NASCAR is leaning toward a system where 43 goes to first, 42 to second, 41 to third, and so on. He likes that idea, but proposes adding a fairly dramatic twist.

"The new point system they are talking about -- the 1 through 43 -- I think is great. But I think they should take the four worst races of the year [for each driver] and throw them away. So [to qualify] for the Chase, you would only count your best 22 out of the first 26 races," Sabates said. "That would change the whole dynamic of the Chase."

Sabates said he has done the math and insisted that EGR driver Jamie McMurrray, who failed to qualify for the Chase last year, would have qualified in the fourth position under his proposed format.

"And who knows? Maybe he would have won the Chase," Sabates said. "I think they need to do something where if you have a wreck or a mistake by a driver or a crew chief that costs you a lap or two, it won't cost you a season, too."

Sabates added that he also has "a theory" where NASCAR could award an additional 10 bonus points for a victory, but also five points for second and third place, "so second and third mean something. I think you would see a lot of different racing if you did that."

Although Sabates' comments stirred lots of discussion, even those within his own EGR camp weren't so sure his suggestion, which he said he intended to propose to NASCAR officials, would be given much consideration.

"How about throwing out the worst eight?" said a smiling Brian Pattie, Juan Montoya's crew chief. "Felix knows what's going on, but I don't know that that will happen. It's still about being consistent. But if you threw out a few bad ones, I definitely could pick out a few."

And Montoya added that he believed throwing out four bad races from each driver wouldn't make much difference in the long run.

"Racing is racing. It's not a lottery," Montoya said. "If the rules were to dictate that and you took four bad races from everyone else in front of you, they still probably would be ahead."

Ryan Newman, a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, agreed with Montoya that throwing four bad races out for each driver wouldn't matter much in the big picture. But he said he has a suggestion of his own. He said he has long advocated giving bonus points for winning a pole.

"I think everybody pretty much has four bad races, so I don't think it would make that big of a difference," Newman said. "I've always said you should award points for qualifying. Maybe I just wish they would have done it back when I was winning like one out of every four poles, but I would like to see them do it. I like the emphasis it would place on the start of the race, and how points could maybe change the standings even before the race started. That way qualifying would have the potential to be real important.

"We all like to sit down at the end of the evening to see highlights. Could you imagine how exciting it would be to see one where a guy wins a pole and moves a point or two ahead in the standings with like three races to go in the season?"

Newman's car owner and teammate, Tony Stewart, added that he's won championships under two different formats already and that the only thing that really matters is that everyone is on the same page of understanding about the format when a season begins.

"The thing is just as long as we all understand what we've got to do at the beginning of the year. As long as we all know that, it's the same for everybody," Stewart said.

Meanwhile, Ganassi defended his minority partner's suggestion.

"Well, you know, I'll tell you this: you can accuse my partner of a lot of things -- but dumb isn't one of them. So if he says it, you'd better listen," Ganassi said. "If you could throw some [bad races] out, here's the thing: if you finish last now you get 34 points out of [a possible 185 base points]. That's 17 percent or something like that [actually 18.4] -- whereas if you finish last in a system where it's one through 43, it's two percent [actually 4.7]. And that's a pretty big freakin' hole to try to dig yourself out of."