Going into the last race of 2010, Denny Hamlin led four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson by 15 points in the standings. In that final race, at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 21, Johnson finished second and led one lap, while Hamlin finished 14th and never led. So who won the title? Why, Johnson, of course—by 39 points. Huh?
If you were scratching your head, you weren't alone. Even NASCAR chairman Brian France had trouble keeping up with the standings as Hamlin, Johnson and Kevin Harvick battled throughout the 10-race Chase for the Cup. "You needed a mathematician at the end," said France. "That tells you it wasn't intuitive enough."
On Jan. 26, France unveiled a simpler points system, one that awards 43 points to the driver who finishes first in the 43-car field, 42 points to the runner-up and so on down to the 43rd place driver, who receives one point. Bonus points will be awarded as follows: three to the race winner, one to any driver who leads a lap and another one to the driver who leads the most laps. NASCAR made the change, in part, to try to engage even the most casual fan. Under the old system, 15 points stood between first and second place, with varying point increments (five, four and three) between each place thereafter.
France announced several other changes, among them the inclusion of two wild cards in the 12-driver Chase field. The top 10 drivers in the regular-season point standings still make the playoff field, but the other two spots will be awarded based on wins through the first 26 races. Jamie McMurray, who won two regular-season races last year—and failed to make the Chase—would have qualified under the new rules, France explained.
"You can win your way in if you get after it," said driver Kasey Kahne. "It creates a little more excitement." And a lot less confusion.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A University of Connecticut donor last week demanded that the school refund his $3 million gift because he felt that he hadn't been adequately consulted on the football team's hiring of a new coach.
JOE SKIPPER/REUTERS (MCMURRAY)
A WINNING WAY Under the new rules McMurray, a multirace victor in '10, would have been in the Chase last year.