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.

George Phillips


16 Responses to “Should IndyCar Revamp Its Points System?”

  1. Medals.


    Bernard Charles Ecclestone

    Under the CART point systems…

    Will Power = Champion

    Even without the Fontana Fix.

    • billytheskink Says:

      That’s not the (1984-2003) CART points structure, that’s the points structure ChampCar used from 2004-2007 that paid points out to the top 20 (in a series with 17-19 car fields).

      Power wins the championship 147-146 over Hunter-Reay using the 12 position CART points system. There is a little bit of shuffling through the rest of the field, no one gains or loses more than a couple of positions in the standings.

  2. Subtract 12 from every position in the current formula and you essentially have the system you seem to advocate.
    A likely reason there are essentially “Participation Points” has implications for the limited allocations of the Team $/champions triangle or whatever they are calling it now. If the participant points aren’t in place a car that goes out, runs a single race, wins it, leap frogs all the HVM’s, DRR and KV’s of the world in the TEAM standings. The Participant points insure that full time teams that have comitted to the series are rewarded over the interlopers.

    The old nascar points system was built with similar motives. In the OLD OLD days, local teams that mastered the three or four closest tracks to them, were encouraged a participant based point system to expand and travel if they wanted to be a player for a championship. Otherwise a winner heavy point system would allow a team that mastered, and exclusively ran 3 or 4 race tracks that were raced on multiple times a year to contend for the championship. The system insured that all the local powerhouse teams had to get out and race each other at all the tracks. Which helped move the series from a locally based regional series to being more broadly based across a wider region of the country.

  3. Rick Hunt Says:

    It’s a challenge to balance the options and try to avoid unintended consequences. For me, the primary goals are 1) reward the race winner, 2) encourage racing for the lead, 3) discourage damaged cars from returning, 4) put cars on the grid.

    Sounds like the CART system comes close, but I do want to distinguish between those that on are on the grid and those that aren’t.

    Winning the race has to be significantly better than finishing second. The delta between positions decreases as you go down the finishing order. Bonuses for leading a green flag lap and most green laps are good. No bonus for leading under yellow.

    Once you get so far down the order, there’s no points difference. No need to have cars several laps down fighting for 23rd. There does need to be a significant difference between finishing last and not being in the field at all.

    I’ve not double checked the math, but something along the lines of 40 points for the win, 30 for 2nd, 24 for 3rd, 20 for 4th, 18 for 5th, 16 for 6th, 14 for 7, 12 for 8, 11 for 9, 10 for 10, 9 for 11, 8 for 12, 7 for 13-15, 6 for 16-20, 5 for 21-33. Bonuses of 2 for leading a green flag lap and 4 for leading most green flag laps.

  4. Sorry but this seems to be a ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ issue to me.

    I’m a stats guy and I certainly appreciate a system that rewards performance in precisely the appropriate manner, but if this means losing the Championship battle every year into the final race (as we’ve had) since 2005? No thanks.

    The Indycar Machine needs a new tranny, a tune-up, and a new fuel tank, maybe suspension work, so figuring out which polish is best for the chrome is the least of worries in my view.

  5. I don’t have strong feelings about this one way or the other, but I disagree with your suggestion George that backmarkers should get no points at all; no reward for teams that ” just show up to take a spot on the grid” as you put it. Tell that to Sarah Fisher. Other than the unfortuante situation at HVM this year, we do not have any teams like some of those in NASCAR that run a lap and park their car. The current field of teams are relatively closely matched compared to what were supposedly the good ol’ days when Vuckovich was in a different time zone from most of the 500 field by halfway through the race.

    It is stating the obvious to say that a lot of time, effort, and money goes into fielding an IndyCar. The livelihood of many people depend on doing that. That has to be worth something regardless of how they may place. Every team in the series made a serious commitment to run all the races, even HVM. Again, that has to be worth something.

  6. I agree with Ron. Keep it as is. The run for the championship was pretty awesome.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I like the 12 position CART point system better than the current point system because it makes earning points a greater accomplishment. Nevertheless, I don’t have a real problem with the current system, as it has made for plenty of interesting championship battles. Also, giving points to everyone is a good way to determine who at the back of the pack is consistent enough to have earned their way into the TEAM/Leader’s Circle/whatever prize money.

    An interesting idea to make oval races a larger factor in the championship, go back to AAA/USAC’s 1946-1977 12-position points system that awards more points for longer race distances (largely ovals these days). A 200 mile road race would pay 400 points to the winner vs. a 500 mile oval race would pay 1000. Not entirely fair, sure, but certainly interesting.

    The 2012 top 5 using this system would be:
    Scott Dixon…………..3175
    Ryan Hunter-Reay…2990
    Helio Castroneves….2735
    Dario Franchitti………2620
    Will Power……………..2565

    And it is worth noting that heading into Fontana, Power’s 2565 points would have topped the standings, with Dixon in second, 90 points behind.

  8. Muike Silver Says:

    While the current system has made for dramatic championship battles, I like the 12-position points system better. I always thought that was the fairest points system ever. Just because you are in a race doesn’t mean you automatically get points. Those points could still just go to the owners for leaders’ Circle purposes.

  9. mikamakka Says:

    The current point system is perfect

  10. You are 100% dead on here George. I have been annoyed with the point system since I became a fan again when reunification happened. Just why are we giving out points for turning your engine on. Points should be a valuably commodity. The win is devalued significantly by someone who finishes 20th place. Use a different point system for owners if you must. Fans dont care about owners points.

    I would also like to see cars that stop out on track get a DNF like they do in F1. Why should anyone get the benefit of help from the marshalls? Get anti-stall working on these engines and lets get more serious about our racing.

  11. seems fine to me.

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  13. I think the points system’s pretty perfect except for two things:

    1. Bonus points for Indy 500 qualifying – that is just totally cheesy in my mind.

    2. Half points for failing to start a race – it should be 0. While I can see the argument for starts being rewarded, DNSes should NOT.

    I don’t see very many cars returning to the track after a crash in IndyCar (Power’s incident at Fontana was generally considered a rarity), and while I find NASCAR’s points system dreadful, I’m perfectly fine with either a system that awards lower positions the same number of points, whether that number is 0 or not.

    In this day and age, I think the entire field should probably score points to encourage greater car counts and because it’s necessary to rank the lower teams with regard to owner’s points and the TEAM program, but the CART system was certainly fine too. The key is having the bottom positions score essentially the same points with 2nd place scoring 75%-80% of the winner’s score.

    NASCAR’s problem has been awarding the top positions far too little and the bottom positions far too much, so that mid-pack finishes score substantially more points than DNFs, leading to comical outcomes such as:

    1. Terry Labonte – 31 – 2 – 21 – 24
    2. Jeff Gordon – 31 – 10 – 21 – 24

    IndyCar doesn’t have that, so it’s fine. NASCAR’s obvious other problems are insisting that its fans couldn’t understand a points system that wasn’t dumbed down, and also the whole chase concept.

  14. I liked the pre-2004 CART system a lot. I also like the top end of the current IndyCar system, it is just this bottom part I don’t like so to be honest we only really need to see a tweak to that.
    I strongly dislike awarding points just for showing up, so no points just for starting. At best I would say you get a point (or a half point) after reaching half distance.

    I’d prefer a system only awarding the top ten or twelve for all the reasons George explained, however some of the other commenters make good points about rewarding entrants who stick by the series rather than running a few races. Hence why I’m willing to acquiesce on the half point. Mind you I always respected Sarah Fisher’s old approach of running a well-presented car for half the races as opposed to some other teams running scruffy near-sponsorless cars for a full season.

    F1 now rewards the top ten and a win is worth 25 to 18 for 2nd. The difference in that series is that every team MUST enter two cars at every race, by regulations, so there’s no requirement to keep the bottom end happy with throwaway points.

    I’d drop all bonuses. Your reward for qualifying on pole is that you start on the pole.

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