Nascar Reviewing Points system
Photo by gettys images
Photo by gettys images

Posted Aug 7, 2003


Matt Kenseth does not exactly look like someone who is running away with the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. He has won one race this season, and that victory came five months ago. He led just 10 laps of the Brickyard 400 on Sunday and finished second to Kevin Harvick, who had a much faster car. But speed does not matter in a championship chase as much as swerving around trouble. Kenseth is doing that.

Kenseth stretched his lead over fierce rival Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 286
points, the biggest margin of points this season. With only 15 races left,
Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon have a hard task at hand if they want to take the
championship.

"I really want to get back to Victory Lane soon," Kenseth said after
Sunday's race, "but, on the other hand, I'm very thankful for how we've been
running."

The points system, first used in 1975, was devised by Bob Latford, a
stock-car historian and a public-relations man who died July 23. NASCAR is
re-evaluating Latford's system, which replaced one that was more convoluted.
NASCAR has done this many times though and may have found some flaws in the
system.

Tony Stewart, last season's champion, finished with 4,800 points. If a
driver had finished 10th in all 36 races, without leading a single lap, he
would have finished with 4,824 points. Consistency beats excellence, and
Kenseth has been consistent. The problem is, nobody wants to see the
championship winner win only one race. Kenseth is one of the more likeable
guys in the garage but many fans are starting to get annoyed with the driver
saying, "all of it is luck".

Latford's system will be in play for at least the rest of the season.
Harvick earned 180 points for winning Sunday, only 20 more points than Bill
Elliott, who finished fifth.

Tony Stewart finished 12th on Sunday, but because he led the most laps of
any driver, he earned only five fewer points than Jimmy Spencer, who was
eighth. Even a driver in the middle of the pack receives 100 points.

Kenseth has improved his chance to win his first title by being consistent.
He has nine top-five finishes and a series-high 16 top-10 finishes. He is
one of only four regular drivers to have completed every race. Harvick,
Michael Waltrip and Terry Labonte are the others.

"We haven't had any bad luck this year, and a lot of it is luck," Jack
Roush, the owner of Kenneth’s Ford, said after Sunday's race."

A championship for Kenseth would also be the first major championship for
Roush, who has a formidable five-car team. He said he expected Kenneth’s car
to break down eventually or for Kenseth to be tangled up in an accident -
perhaps one that he is not even responsible for, possibly getting in an
accident that ends his season like last year with Sterling Marlin. Such
things tend to happen in stock-car racing.


"I feel good whenever you can finish and gain points," Kenseth said. "But
you feel good when you finish and run good enough to win. That's what we're
here for."

The Winston Cup series now moves to Watkins Glen, N.Y., for a race Sunday.
Watkins Glen is one of only two road courses on the schedule. Kenseth, 31,
has only one top-10 finish in seven road-course races in his four-year
career.

The four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who is in third place in the
standing, 318 points behind Kenseth, has won seven of his 21 road-course
races. Gordon cannot overcome Kenseth in the standing this weekend, but he
can chop into the lead. Not to mention that Dale Earnhardt Jr. runs well at
Watkins Glen. Earnhardt was in the running for the win last year before being
knocked out of the way by roadcourse specialist Boris Said.

Gordon led only three laps Sunday, but every lap leader earns a five-point
bonus. So Gordon lost only 15 points to Kenseth in the standing even though
Gordon finished fourth and had no realistic chance to win the race.

"I know we didn't get many points, but that's championship form as far as
I'm concerned for this race team," Gordon said. "I couldn't be more proud of
them."

Track position is what matters. As long as a car does not blow a motor or
smash into a wall, a driver will be rewarded. Earnhardt finished 14th Sunday
but did not lose much ground in his pursuit of Kenseth.

"We had a tire that had a vibration," Earnhardt said, "so that's why we made
an extra stop. We went from 23rd to 14th after that, so I'm not all that
upset about it." Earnhardt would have been in the running for the win had
they not needed to stop.

Earnhardt picked up 27 more points by doing so. But Kenseth did better. He
did not win, again, but he led the points race for the 18th straight week.
Unless Gordon or Earnhardt makes a move, and soon, Roush may win his first
title.

"NASCAR has these cars so incredibly close," Kenseth said. "The 43 cars are
just so close to the same speed, and that makes it better if you're out
front."


NOTES:

There are many rumors surfacing that Mike Helton, the man behind the magic
in NASCAR, may take over Dale Earnhardt Inc. Teresa Earnhardt acknowledged
that they have asked Helton if he wanted a job at DEI. DEI which was built
by the late 7 time champion Dale Earnhardt, may be owned by the most
powerful person in NASCAR by the way it sounds



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