A Few Points About Points

There has been a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over issuing double-points for the Indianapolis 500 and the season-finale, including from yours truly. Some are in favor of double-points at the Indianapolis 500, but not the finale; while some see it the other way around. Others (like me) are opposed to double-points completely.

To me, it just reeks of gimmickry. I simply don’t agree with randomly assigning more points for one race over the other, just to keep more drivers mathematically alive for the championship at the end of the season. Did it ever dawn on them that if they didn’t double the points for the Indianapolis 500, they wouldn’t need to keep more people alive at the end of the season?

Doubling the points for any race artificially skews everything – both ways. In 2017, Takuma Sato was up near the top of the championship of a large part of the summer – mostly on the strength of his Indianapolis 500 victory. Had it paid the same as the IndyCar GP, Sato would not have been mentioned as a championship contender for the next few weeks.

It works the other way too. By missing the Indianapolis 500 in 2018, James Hinchcliffe kissed his championship hopes goodbye. It was like missing two races, which no full-time driver can afford to do.

No other sport does this. All events count the same. Let’s use this NFL season for an example. Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ll use the Titans and Colts as a painful example, after that miserable performance by the Titans yesterday. In the last week of the season, the Titans play at Houston, while the Colts are at Jacksonville. If the Colts have a one-game lead over the Titans for the division lead, and the Colts own the tie-breakers; even if the Titans won and the Colts lost – the Colts would go to the playoffs as division champs. But what if that last game of the season really counted as two games, just to give life to those teams that had struggled more?

In that scenario, the Titans would be crowned division champs, while the Colts could potentially sit out the playoffs. Is that really fair? Juan Montoya didn’t think so in 2015, when Scott Dixon won the championship on the strength of double-points in the finale at Sonoma. Had Sonoma paid regular points, Montoya would have been champion. But Montoya was the beneficiary of the double points for winning the Indianapolis 500 earlier that season. I’m not going back to figure out what would’ve happened to Montoya if you take away his double-points at Indianapolis, but you get my point. It makes things way too convoluted.

And while we’re at it, bringing up the Hinchcliffe scenario reminds me that a DNQ is a lot more punitive than a DNF. I’m not really a fan of the current IndyCar scoring system. In my opinion, it puts too much emphasis on showing up and participating, than it does on earning a podium finish. Finishing fifteenth gets you half the points (15) than finishing fifth (30). It does reward winning, by awarding fifty points for the win and only forty points for second-place and thirty-five points for third.

But beyond the podium, the point distribution levels off to drop only one or two points per position to where even last place at the most recent race at Portland (twenty-third) paid seven points. If that driver led a lap (it was Graham Rahal, and he didn’t) even during a pit-stop shuffle, he would have been awarded another point. That extra bonus-point for leading a lap is awfully cheap. I’m not sure many drivers actually earn that one.

I have no problem with bonus points. If a driver wins the pole, they deserve a point for that. If they lead the most laps, they have earned the two points that comes with that. But to award a valuable point just for not pitting when all the cars in front of you did? That’s cheesy.

While CART had many faults that hastened their demise, I always thought they had the perfect points system. It was not near as restrictive as Formula One in the nineties where only the Top-Six finishers earned points, but the CART system did not reward just showing up.

For those that don’t remember; CART awarded twenty points for a win. Second-place earned sixteen points, third-place got fourteen, fourth received twelve points and so on down to seventh place receiving six points. At that point the points awarded dropped by only one point per position, that is – eighth got five points, ninth received four points, tenth was awarded only three points and so on until twelfth-place got the final point awarded for the race. Thirteenth on down through the rest of the field got zero.

So under the CART system, fifth place earned ten points out of a possible twenty, while fifteenth paid zero. Under the current IndyCar system, fifth place gets thirty points out of a possible fifty, while fifteenth-place gets fifteen points. The IndyCar system is built to reward a lot of mediocrity and to pay points just for showing up and finishing last.

If you finish thirteenth in a twenty-two car field, do you really deserve points? Maybe I’m old-school; but I think points should be rewarded for excelling, not existing. Those drivers who finish at the front should be the ones fighting over points – not the backmarkers.

When the two series unified before the 2008 season, my hope was that IndyCar would adapt the point system that CART utilized from 1983 through the 2003 season. When CART Morphed into Champ Car before the 2004 season, they modified the scoring system to paying thirty-one points for a win, and second-place paid twenty-seven points. What in the world were they thinking about to award such an odd number? Plus they structured it to where points were paid through the twentieth finishing position, again rewarding mediocrity. In all honesty, I much prefer the current IndyCar point system over that.

It’ll never happen that IndyCar would restructure the points, but that’s one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way. The point system that CART used in the nineties was almost perfect.

But what they can and should do is get rid of the double-points at Indianapolis, the season finale or any other race they deem worthy of double-points. In my opinion, it cheapens the championship and falsely skews the standings.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “A Few Points About Points”

  1. While I don’t disagree, I look at the current climate in IndyCar and motorsports in general and tend to feel that we should be thankful we have as many team owners in IndyCar as we do, thus I have no problem tossing them a few points for simply existing.

  2. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Mark Miles has been quoted saying as long as he is involved there will be double points for the final. So unfortunately it seems that double points will continue.

    George, my wife and I were in Nashville yesterday for the game and thanks a lot for the 96 degree weather. Nashville is a very vibrant and friendly city. Other than the weather we had a great time,

  3. I completely agree, George. the CART point system was perfect. I heard Curt Cavin say on Trackside that double points keep more drivers eligible for the championship going into the last race. My question is why is that necessary? if that’s what keeps their title hopes alive, they probably haven’t done enough during the season to deserve a shot.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I would expect the series (and/or its television partners) feels that it is necessary that the championship go down to the last race because that provides a storyline to sell to attract ticket buyers, media attention, and (especially) television viewers.

      I can see why NBC would be happier to promote that 3 drivers have a chance to win the championship during Sunday’s broadcast than to have to tiptoe around or even acknowledge that Newgarden would only need to take the green flag in order to win the title (which is what would be the case if there were no double points, he would be 48 points up on Rossi, who can only earn a maximum of 48 points more than Newgarden to tie on points and cannot match his 4 wins). It is not reasoning that I agree with as a fan of racing competition, but I get what they are trying to do.

  4. I very rarely comment here, but I wanted to weigh in on this issue, as you’ve addressed it on many times over the years.

    With regard to having double points for the season finale, I agree with your conclusion, but I don’t agree with your reasoning. I don’t think the comparison to the NFL is an apt analogy. If the NFL gave double credit for the last game of the season, the team that plays the Patriots in Week 17 would be at a severe disadvantage compared to the team that plays the Dolphins in Week 17. It would be an uneven playing field. Awarding double points at Laguna Seca doesn’t create that kind of a bias.

    Instead, I agree with you on that issue because awarding double points for Laguna Seca suggests that Laguna Seca is more important than the other races. And it isn’t–or at least, it wouldn’t be if not for double points. No one thinks it is. So why should the winner of Laguna Seca get more credit than, say, the winner at Iowa?

    And that takes me to whether double points should be awarded at the Indy 500. Here, I disagree with you, for the same reason why I agree with you regarding Laguna Seca. The Indy 500 is more important. Everyone knows it is. Why should the scoring give it the same weight as every other event when in fact, it really is more important?

    I also don’t think that awarding double points for the Indy 500 helps to create the perceived need to make things closer at the end of the season. It can go either way. Awarding double points at the 500 has, for example, kept Simon Pagenaud closer to the championship than he would otherwise be.

    Finally, I also agree with you regarding the point distribution. I don’t think it makes any sense at all to decide the championship based on whether someone came back out after an extended early pit stop, dozens of laps off the pace, in some early-season race and was able to finish 16th instead of 17th as a result, but that’s what could happen under the current structure.

  5. I’d like to see the points lessen for those who do not finish in the top 10. I wouldn’t give any points if the car did not finish the race. I also agree that the finale should not be worth double points no matter where it is. I just hope IC does not ever introduce a playoff system or stage racing.

  6. When Randy Bernard introduced double points for the 500 mile races maybe as a way to both boost the Triple Crown which has since sadly been abandoned and as a way to “replace” the recently lost oval events by giving the remaining ones more importance, the season finale at Fontana became one of those double points races.
    Keeping double points with the finale and the Indianapoilis 500 always appeared artificial. But at least, the Indy 500 is not the season finale anymore like in the odd 1996/97 season of the IRL.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I am inclined to agree as well on both double points and the points system. I was a supporter of the points system paying out to every entry when there was competition for Leader’s Circle spots, but IndyCar lately has seen full-time grid sizes well within what we once knew was the Leader’s Circle member limit (22)… or they have settled on paying out Leader’s Circle money to any entry that commits for the full season.

    Nevertheless, removing double points or changing the point system to the old CART system has rarely altered the standings in a significant way. Under the CART system, Will Power would have taken the 2012 title by 1 point over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Montoya would have beaten Dixon by 10 points in 2016. 2016 is the only championship-altering example for double points, I believe… calculating Montoya vs. Dixon is as simple as looking at their results at Indy and Sonoma – Montoya finished 1st and 6th respectively, Dixon 4th and 1st – Dixon scored more points in those two races and therefore has more points subtracted if removing double points. Very rarely do full-time drivers move up or down more than 1 or 2 positions with double points (and Indy qualifying bonus points) removed and most drivers don’t move up or down in points at all.

    Now, as for the much beloved CART system – here is how many drivers in the top 10 in points would move in or out of the top 10 if IndyCar used the classic CART points system for each season in the post-split era.

    2009 – in – Power, Mutoh, out – Wheldon, Wilson
    2010 – in – Wilson, who would tie Patrick for 10th
    2011 – in – Hinchcliffe, out – Patrick
    2012 – none
    2013 – none
    2014 – in – Kimball, out – Andretti
    2015 – none
    2016 – in – Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay, out – Kimball and Munoz
    2017 – in – Hinchcliffe, out – Kanaan
    2018 – in – Wickens, out – Andretti
    2019 – in – Herta, out – Ferrucci

    Now, the old USAC system awarding points by race distance produces some slightly different changes:

    2009 – in – Power, out – Wilson
    2010 – none
    2011 – in – Hildebrand, out – Patrick
    2012 – none
    2013 – in – Kanaan, out – Kimball
    2014 – in – Briscoe and Carpenter, out – Andretti and Bourdais
    2015 – none
    2016 – in – Hinchcliffe, out – Kimball
    2017 – in – none
    2018 – in – Wickens, out – Andretti
    2019 – in – none

    However, the USAC system produces new champions at an astounding rate! – 2009 (Dixon over Franchitti), 2012 (Dixon passes both RHR and Power), 2015 (Montoya over Dixon), and 2017 (Pagenaud over Newgarden)

  8. since we have some time….
    check out this Tesla at Laguna Seca.

  9. I agree about limiting the amount of drivers receiving points at the end of the race. I enjoy Formula 1s point system for just the top 10. With the amount of diversity and competition in this series. A tough point system like this would create a huge challenge to perform race after race. There wouldn’t be a focus on point racing but a bigger focus on performing to the best of their ability. Also a DNF would be worth as much as an 11th place finish. It wouldn’t be as critical as the current established system.

  10. I am just thankful we don’t have the playoff crap that I see in NASCAR and the NHRA (where the Top Fuel leader lost over 600 points in the reset, should have won the championship a race or so from now). I also like double points at Indy just because it is the Indy 500. I like the winner of Indy to be represented in the top 10 or better at season’s end.

  11. Shyam R Cherupalla Says:

    I liked the Old CART points sytem, we should all vote for it be brought back. The only opinion I have about double points is it rewards someone if they are still in the race, if someone is out of the race then they lose lot of points relative to other drivers. However if two drivers are at a certain place points wise, the points paid out even if its double is the same, meaning its relatively the same. For example if a winner got 50 in a normal race, under double points got 100, however a second place driver got 40 in a normal race as compared to 80 under double points. As an example, if two drivers were equal on points going into the final race, and they both finished at first and second (barring the extra points for pole and laps led for conversation sake), the winner would have 20 points more than the second place driver compared to 10 points in a normal finale with no double points, relatively the same

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