News & Media

Aumann: Closest Chase in history? You're missing the point

November 03, 2011, Mark Aumann,

No matter which points system you use, Edwards would still be the Chase leader

Tony Stewart has three victories since the Chase started but is still eight points behind Carl Edwards. How is that possible, given NASCAR's insistence that the new points system would be simpler to understand?

Stewart's 25th-place finish at Dover hurt him in the points a whole lot more than his three wins helped him. And even though Edwards hasn't won, his worst finish in seven Chase races is 11th.

Place the blame on arithmetic progression.

"From third through 12th, the new system actually rewards a higher percentage of points than under Latford."


Chase points

Comparing new vs. old
DriverNew Pts.Old Pts.
T. Stewart-8-11
K. Harvick-21-65
B. Keselowski-27-72
M. Kenseth-36-111
J. Johnson-43-121
Ky. Busch-57-187
Ku. Busch-58-194
D. Earnhardt Jr.-73-249
J. Gordon-76-256
D. Hamlin-80-270
R. Newman-89-305

The revolutionary points system that public relations expert Bob Latford presented to NASCAR president Bill France in 1975 was based on an arithmetic sequence -- or in this case, a negative progression. Latford proposed a "stairstep" points allotment, where first place was worth a set amount of points, and each succeeding position was determined by a common difference.

Eventually the Latford system was modified over the years, and race winners received a minimum of 190 points (175 for finishing first, plus five for leading a lap and a 10-point winner's bonus). Second through sixth were separated by five points, seventh through 11th by four, and the remainder of the field in three-point increments.

When NASCAR decided to simplify the points at the beginning of this season, they hoped to mimic Latford's system. Giving one point for each position, beginning with 43 for the winner (plus 3 bonus points and a point for leading a lap) and ending with 1 for last place, it appears to do that.

However, one of the chief complaints about Latford's system is that it proved to be regressive, in that a poor finish was penalized more than a good finish was rewarded. And not only did the new points system not repair that inequity, it wound up making things worse.

How? There are two major reasons.

First, Latford's system used variable progression. So even though the percentages of points in relation to the winner are similar in some cases, they vary significantly -- particularly from 15th place on.

The percentage differential between first and second in both systems is 89 percent. But from third through 12th, the new system actually rewards a higher percentage of points than under Latford. Then after 15th place, the new system pays an increasingly smaller percentage of points than in the past.

Until 2010, 25th-place was approximately 46 percent of the winner's point total. Now it's down to 40 percent. And in Stewart's case, that makes just enough of a difference to keep him second to Edwards, whose finishes are all getting a higher percentage of points than they would have under the old rules.

Second, because Latford couldn't forecast NASCAR's future car counts, he left the bottom of his point system open-ended. So 43rd-place didn't get one point, like now. Instead, it was worth 34 points -- or roughly 18 percent of what the winner got. Under the new points, you'd have to finish at least 35th to have a similar percentage.

So how would the current Chase look under last season's rules? Edwards would still lead Stewart, but it'd be by 11 points -- or roughly two positions on the track, not eight. Brad Keselowski would be third, 65 points back -- mainly on the strength of getting 20 bonus points for two wins, pre-"wild card." And Kevin Harvick would be 72 points behind in fourth.

New point system compared to previous point system

Finishing PositionPrevious Point SystemNew Point System
2-6170-150 (five-point differential between each position)42-38 (one-point differential between each position)
7-11146-130 (four-point differential between each position)37-33 (one-point differential between each position)
12-43127-34 (three-point differential between each position)32-1 (one-point differential between each position)
Lap Led5 points1 point
Most Laps Led5 points1 point

Is this the closest Chase, then? No, but it compares favorably. Jeff Gordon led Jimmie Johnson by nine points with three races remaining in 2007. And last year, Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Harvick were separated by just 38 points heading into Texas.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.