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Archive for Thursday, October 23, 2003

Wins should carry more weight in NASCAR points race

October 23, 2003

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If you went back through every football game played this season and gave 20 points for touchdowns and only three for field goals, you'd have some very different final scores and team records.

But if touchdowns were worth 20 points and field goals only three, far more teams would go for it on fourth down. The way the game is played would change so much that it would be pointless to apply the "new rules" retroactively.

The same holds true for stock-car racing.

With four races left, Matt Kenseth still is in command of the race for the 2003 title. After finishing 14th Sunday in the Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway, he's up 240 points on Kevin Harvick. If Kenseth scores 501 more points in the final four races -- averaging a 12th-place finish -- he wins the title.

That's the only math that really matters, but there must be a thousand ways to add up a 36-race season. Just about everybody's got a theory about how a champion should be determined.

For several years, The Charlotte Observer and ThatsRacin.com kept something we called the Competition Index. It gave drivers more points for winning races and poles and leading miles and took away bonus points now given for leading a lap and the most laps in a race.

Under that system this year, Ryan Newman's eight poles and eight wins would put him 14 points behind Kenseth at this juncture, with Jeff Gordon 178 back and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 200 behind.

And if Aunt Myrtle had chest hair and an Adam's apple, she'd be Uncle Fred.

Kenseth hasn't had a top-five finish since Labor Day and has led 10 fewer laps in the past seven races, total, than Joe Nemechek led Sunday at Martinsville. But Kenseth's people at Roush Racing still are busy working on designs for his championship T-shirts and figuring out seating charts for the really good tables at the end-of-the-year banquet in New York.

That's the system, and it's not an indictment of Kenseth, crew chief Robby Reiser and their team to say that the system is stupid.

College basketball's rules used to allow teams to run time off the clock when they had the lead. When enough people made enough noise in protest of such tactics, the college game went to a shot clock to limit stalling. And the good teams adapted their strategy to the new system.

If NASCAR had a different points system in place, one that made winning races so important it actually would hurt teams not to make that their overriding purpose, good teams like Kenseth's would race differently in their quest for a championship. It has been said a thousand times, but whether you call it "points racing" or whatever, the leader's team's approach to this season has been smart racing.

It's true that no championship points leader has won a Cup race since Sterling Marlin did it at Darlington in March 2002 -- 64 races ago. That's a joke, but it's also the system's fault. The path to a championship ought to be routed more directly through Victory Lane, but unless and until it is, don't blame Kenseth's team for staying on it.

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