A Return to Normalcy

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While I enjoyed seeing all of the social media posts, photos and videos coming from IndyCar Spring Training at the Thermal Club, near Palm Springs, CA; to me the biggest story of the weekend was the Thursday night press release announcing that there will be no more double-points awarded for the Indianapolis 500. I see this as a return to normalcy.

My feelings have never wavered on this, ever since double-points were awarded beginning in 2014. I also know that many of you disagree with me, some stronger than others.

I am fully aware that USAC once based point-payouts by the length of each race, thereby making any 500-mile race count more than others. When CART finally started counting the Indianapolis 500 in the points standings in 1983, the race paid the same as any other race on the schedule. It was that way through The Split and Reunification, up until 2014.

Not to sound like a name-dropper, although I’m not even going to mention the name – but last May, I wrote a post expressing my unfavorable opinion of double-points. During the Qualifying weekend a team-member in a management role of one of the more prominent teams, who has also been a closeted longtime reader of this site, came up to me and half-way joked at how wrong I was on my double-points article.

While he was kidding around with me, he did explain to me that a giant percentage of their annual budget and their time is devoted to that one race. For the amount of energy and resources that his team pours into the Month of May, he said it should pay at least triple-points.

I get what he is saying, from a team’s perspective; and they are the ones that pay for everything in the series, but I write from a fan’s perspective. When this news hit on Thursday night, I’m guessing that more than 90% of the fans were thrilled with the announcement.

Forget the tradition, or my usual aversion to change – I just felt like the double-points concept was way too gimmicky. It artificially manipulated the standings. By winning only one race in 2022 – the Indianapolis 500 – Marcus Ericsson was in the thick of the points battle through most of the summer. Teammate Scott Dixon, on the other hand, became a long-shot for the 2022 championship after he was penalized for a pit speed violation and finished twenty-first. Not only did that mistake cost him a shot at his second Indianapolis 500; it also effectively took him out of the running for another championship, due to the negative effect of double-points.

I always liked that the Indianapolis 500 was big enough that it stood on its own. If it paid no points, drivers and teams would still flock to compete in it. With twenty-seven fulltime cars, that means at least six more cars will qualify and possibly more will be entered. They are not regular drivers and will receive no benefit from the points they accrue – yet they continue to enter and compete. I think as big as it is, it was unique that it counted as much as St. Petersburg or Barber – that is, until 2014. Now it will be that way again.

Qualifying remains untouched, and I’m OK with that. An entire weekend is devoted for qualifying and the run for the pole. Rather than getting a single point for the pole at other races, the Indianapolis 500 pole-winner is awarded twelve points (and $100,000). Points decrease by one, from the top starting spot through the fourth row. While the pole winner gets twelve points, starting on the outside of the fourth still pays one point.

Much has been made of the fact that a driver can only earn a maximum of sixty-five points in the Indianapolis 500, but it’s possible for a driver to earn 106 points at the Iowa double-header weekend. While that may be true, these are two separate races with two outcomes and should be treated as such. Last year Josef Newgarden won Race One on Saturday, but crashed while leading Race Two and finished twenty-fourth. He got the deserving amount of points for each race. It doesn’t matter if two races are one day apart or a week apart – they are two separate races, and that is a flawed argument.

Count me as very happy regarding the loss of double-points for the Indianapolis 500. I don’t feel likeI can say they are gone for good, but they are gone for now. Based on the comments I’ve seen on social media, the vast majority of fans agree with me (for once). This time, at least, IndyCar listened to the fans.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “A Return to Normalcy”

  1. IndyCar used to award double points in the season’s final race, and I fully supported the decision to stop doing that. That *was* a gimmick. But awarding double points to the Indy 500 wasn’t a gimmick. It simply reflected the reality that the Indy 500 is more important than the other races.

    And Scott Dixon’s 21st-place finish in the 500 did not “effectively [take] him out of the running for another championship.” He remained in contention for the title until the final race, finishing third. Moreover, none of the other top three finishers in the title standings–champion Will Power, 2nd place Josef Newgarden, and 4th place Scott McLaughlin–fared particularly well in the 500, either. Power finished 15th at Indy, so he only gained 6 points on Dixon relative to what would have happened if the 500 hadn’t paid double points. Newgarden finished 13th at Indy, and McLaughlin finished 29th. So the idea that awarding double points at Indy knocked Dixon or anyone else out of the championship is simply inconsistent with what actually happened.

  2. it demeaned the Series as a whole. I am incredibly pleased with this decision and that management have listened. Great news.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I’m not sad to see them go, but I never found double points for the Indy 500 (or any of the other 500 mile races) objectional or unjustified. I also found the oft-complained about effects of double points on the championship to be a bit overblown, though they certainly were there.

    Only 8 of 25 drivers would have finished in a different position last season without double points at Indy, none of them in the top 7 (yes, including Marcus Ericsson). David Malukas would have moved up a spot, but would not have taken Rookie of the Year. Colton Herta would have jumped two spots, but would not have earned the FIA super license points he needed to find himself in an F1 cockpit this year. The only other full time driver to move more than 1 spot was Takuma Sato, who would have found himself in 17th instead of 19th.

    I do think that offering extra points for 500 Qualifying is a better way to increase points payout for the 500 as a whole, though, and I would support a return to offering qualifying points to all 33 qualifiers (as was done from 2010 to 2017, 2015 excepted). I liked the 2014 qualifying system where points were offered from 33 to 1 in descending order based on final qualifying position on Saturday, though the additional fast nine points on Sunday weren’t necessary.

    • I’m amazed that you (and others) track, record, and/or remember such aspects of the sport.

    • I just want to know the origins of the name “billytheskink”. Great name by the way.

      • billytheskink Says:

        Thanks, though I don’t know if the origin story is terribly interesting. Billy the Skink was a cartoon character I started doodling on homework and in notebooks back when I was in middle school. As a kid, I liked lizards, especially skinks… both the ones I could catch in and around where I grew up in southeast Texas and the blue-tongued ones from Australia that I would read about. Billy just seemed like a name that would work well with the word “skink”.

  4. I’ll mention one more thing, which is that I think that the whole double-points-for-the-Indy-500 thing has been a sideshow that has distracted from the main issue, which is that there is a fundamental problem with the IndyCar scoring system in general, as the gradient between good performance and middling performance isn’t nearly steep enough. That’s the thing that can really cause your championship chances to plummet simply due to a few poor finishes, as Josef Newgarden can testify.

    Suppose you finish 1st in one IndyCar race and last in another (and assume that each race has at least 25 participants). You’d get 50 + 5 = 55 points, plus at least one bonus point for leading a race, for a total of at least 56. If instead you had finished 6th in both races, you’d have gotten 2 x 28 = 56 points, so you’d be about even.

    Meanwhile, if IndyCar were to use the current F1 scoring system, you’d get 25 + 0 = 25 points. (I’ll ignore F1’s bonus point for the fastest lap.) Two 6th-place finishes would net you 2 x 8 = 16 points, much less. Instead, you’d need two 4th-place finishes, for 2 x 12 = 24 points, to be about where you’d be with a 1st place and a last place. IndyCar would award 2 x 32 = 64 points for two 4th-place finishes, making it much better than a first and a last.

    Personally, I think it’s obvious that a first and a last should outrank a pair of sixth places. F1 seems to have it about right. I haven’t run the numbers, but my guess is that Newgarden would have won the title last year if the F1 system was used. I think that IndyCar should adopt the F1 system or something similar, which would reward excellence; the current system is more focuses on rewarding top 10s and punishing DNFs. (But I wouldn’t adopt F1’s fastest-lap bonus, which is asinine.) I’d be happy to sacrifice double-points for the 500 if it could lead to more fundamental reform as I’ve suggested here.

    • On this, we can agree. I’ve always said that CART had the perfect system (but this was when F1 paid 10 points for a win). CART paid 20 points for a win, 16 for second, 14 for third…down to where anything after twelfth received zero points. No points were paid for leading the race, but one point was paid for leading the MOST laps, and one point for the pole. Anyone finishing twentieth does not deserve points, in my opinion. – GP

    • billytheskink Says:

      Using the current F1 points system, Newgarden still would not have won the championship last season. Power would have won the title, 195 to 184 over Newgarden. That’s actually a wider gap than the Indycar points system produced, requiring a 4th place finish to overcome in a hypothetical additional race that the championship leader did not start rather than a 14th place finish.

      While there are points systems that I prefer to Indycar’s current one (the longtime CART system, in particular), I have recalculated recent Indycar season points using other systems for many years now and have rarely seen the other systems produce significantly different results at or near the top of the points standings when compared to Indycar. I would argue that Indycar’s system does a decent job determining a champion, even as I would be fine with the series changing it to something more along the lines of F1 or CART.

      The most significant differences occur near the back of the standings, where part-timers who record a good finish or two in their limited schedules will leapfrog full-time backmarkers. Using the F1 system, for example, Tony Kanaan jumps from 26th to 20th, ahead of 6th full-time drivers, on the strength of his one result, 3rd at the 500. The CART system moves Kanaan from 26th to 22nd, ahead of 3 full-timers.

  5. It’s the proverbial “no-brainer” to let go of these double points. And I use that phrase carefully because you should not say stuff without any brains in general.

  6. I always thought the winner alone should get double points, and am open to points for qualifying (given the amount of effort that goes in to it), but I always felt for the drives in the midfield who got dropped 3-4 spots in the standings because of a crash/bad tire. Smart move to just make it normal

  7. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    I am totally in favor of the removal of double points for the 500. Great news as far as I’m concerned.

  8. Britindycarfan26 Says:

    I’m on the fence on the Indy 500 being double points …… yes in general I’m totally against a series having any double points races but 3 factors make me lesser my opposition to it on this occasion in Indycar championship …
    1. I’m more against all the field getting points in all races then I’m against the Indy 500 double points which leads into point 2…
    2. Virtually every other indycar race is 200-400 miles Indy 500 obviously is at least 100 miles longer then the next longest race and double most other races and 2.5 times larger then the seasons shortest race .
    3. And this is with f1 sized fields off 20-26 cars for all the other races which I.m.o only the top 10-12 cars should be awarded any points (top 15 / top 3/4 quarters off the field max should get points at a push I.m.o in any race series ) … ok but then you have the Indy 500 come along and it has roughly an 50% larger field if like in most years the event has 33 cars …… so in summary put all 3 factors together and I feel the points do need to go to lower finishing positions at the 500 then any other Indycar race so in that scenario I’m ok with the winning driver getting double points / maybe double down the points down the top 3-5 finishes at a push also but after that points should decrease at the standard point/couple off points per finish position …Basically I wouldn’t give double points all the way down the Indy 500 Field compared to a normal race … again at a maximum top 3/4 quarters off the field off 33 cars…so in a 33 car Indy 500 race I would give points to the top 24/25 drivers who should score points ok but after that let’s not award points for only turning up! So double points for winning driver ok 👍 maybe a few drivers on/near the podium …but double points for whole field hell no!

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