Should IndyCar Revamp Its Points System?
Whenever I make a bold statement, I always feel the need to throw out a disclaimer ahead of it. First off, I want to make it clear that I am very happy that Ryan Hunter-Reay is the new champion of the IZOD IndyCar Series. He drove his heart out in the remaining three races when things looked hopeless after he was punted by Alex Tagliani at Sonoma; and was very deserving of the championship.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way – I think it’s time to revamp the IndyCar points system. The way it currently stands, the race winner is rewarded appropriately but I think that too many drivers are rewarded for just showing up. Fifty points go to the winner of each race, while second place is awarded forty points. A twenty percent difference between first and second is fairly significant. Third place gets thirty-five, while fourth nets thirty-two. After there, things start getting into a fuzzy area where there is hardly any point differential. Fifth pays thirty points and six scores twenty-eight. It goes down by two’s down to tenth place. From eleventh to seventeenth, the point total decreases by one for each place, then levels off at paying twelve points regardless if you finish eighteenth or twenty-fourth. Beyond twenty-fourth, each position pays ten points – no matter how far back you finish. The pole winner gets a point and the driver that leads the most laps wins 2 points. A driver could conceivably come away from a race with fifty-three total points.
The old Formula One system that was in place through 2002 was almost too restrictive in who received points. Only the top six finishers collected points. The race winner got ten points, while second place got six. That’s a forty percent difference between first and second. Third got four points and it went down by one point down to sixth. Place below sixth and you get as many points as the guy who finished dead last – zero. They revamped it slightly in 2003 with the idea of making it tougher for Michael Schumacher to win another championship. It didn’t work. First still paid ten points, but the second place driver would net eight points. Then third got six and it worked its way down to eighth place. After eighth, no points were awarded. As you can tell, a single point comes at a premium in Formula One.
NASCAR just revised their points system a couple of years ago. Theirs was the most confusing and placed a much greater emphasis on consistency than it did on winning – thus giving birth to the term “points racing”. Since fewer people could explain NASCAR’s point system than could explain the infield-fly rule, they decided to simplify it beginning with the 2011 season. With forty-three cars per race, the winner is awarded forty-three points. Although the intent was to simplify things, they added a few variables like the race winner receives three bonus points for winning. Any driver that leads a lap also receives a bonus point, so the winner is guaranteed at least forty-seven points. Then the driver that leads the most laps in a race also gets a bonus point. It’s conceivable that under a simplified system that pays the winner forty-three points, the winner could receive forty-eight points. Still confused? Don’t feel bad.
Actually, I think that the ideal scoring system was the one that CART utilized. The race winner earned twenty points. Then there was the twenty percent separation found in the current IndyCar point structure; with second place getting sixteen points. Third place was awarded fourteen points, fourth place twelve and so forth – with a two point drop all the way down to seventh place. Then the points dropped in single increments down to twelfth place, which was awarded one point. Any driver finishing below twelfth was awarded no points. The pole winner was awarded a bonus point as well as the driver to lead the most laps. A driver would max outpoints in one weekend at twenty-two.
The CART system was a nice mix between the old NASCAR method that put almost no emphasis on winning, and the old Formula One system that awarded only the very top finishers. It was simple to understand and didn’t make it where a driver was rewarded simply for showing up, or pay almost as many points for finishing thirty-third as it did for finishing eighteenth – as is the case with the current IndyCar points system. Those two points between finishing twenty-fifth and twenty-fourth is the only reason Will Power took his quickly repaired car back out for twelve laps at Fontana. Under the current system, he would have had to pick up seven more spots in order to increase his point total.
I won’t go back and recalculate who would have placed where this season under other points systems. I’m too lazy and mathematically challenged to do that. But I do like the concept of rewarding those that achieve results.
I see no reason for awarding points throughout the entire grid. How many times did we see it under the old NASCAR system, where a driver clinched the championship simply by taking the green flag? Is that really compelling drama to wonder if a driver’s car will start? Twelve seems like a nice number. If you’re not in contention for the win, you aim for the top five or top ten. If you fall slightly short of the top ten, at least you get a couple of points. If the best you can do is thirteenth in a twenty-five car field, are you really deserving of improving your point total? Under the current IndyCar structure, thirteenth place pays you seventeen points. Not bad for a mediocre afternoon. Reward the top twelve and let those that finished out of the points be left scratching their heads wondering how they went through the entire weekend without scoring a point. This isn’t Tee-ball where everyone gets a trophy. This is a high-stress environment where performance and accomplishments get rewarded – not just showing up to take up a spot on the grid.
As noble and honorable as it was for Will Power’s team to thrash that car back together that quickly, I would have preferred to see them keep a questionable car off of the track. When CART was around, we used to laugh at NASCAR sending unsafe cars back out onto the track, that had little or no body work and were nothing more than rolling chicanes. Then with the IndyCar point system, suddenly we were seeing Helio Castroneves taking a car out that was down over fifty laps at Richmond one year, just to pick up a couple of points. Under the CART system, if a car was damaged to the point that twelfth place was not attainable – they just loaded the car onto the trailer and went home. Was it as dramatic? No, but it was a lot safer and left the track a little clearer for those that actually had a shot.
I know many will disagree with me on this. After all, this system has taken the championship down to the last race of the season more times than not. It’s easy to use the much over-used cliché "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it". A lot of people like the fact that a wrecked car can still go out and earn points. That’s fine if you do, but to me – it dilutes some of the racing and cheapens the value placed on points. I want to see every point available out there to be earned.