Make Every Point More Valuable

This weekend, Susan and I wrapped up viewing the last few episodes of Formula One: Drive to Survive Season Five. As they focused on the second tier teams and drivers, there was a great deal of importance of finishing “in the points”. In F1, there are only a handful of teams that are realistically capable of actually winning. Yes, it’s possible that a car from Haas or AlphaTauri might somehow pull off a win – but it’s not likely. That’s a stratosphere reserved for Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren. The others are left to be satisfied with points.

Points are much easier to come by in the NTT IndyCar Series, than in Formula One. In IndyCar, you get points just for making the grid. The only way a driver would come away from an IndyCar weekend with no points, is if he or she did not start the race for some reason – be it injury, food poisoning or some other unfortunate mishap. If a car takes the green flag, they collect points. Even if they finish twenty-fifth or worse, the collect five points, which is 10% of what the winning driver gets. Every position pays points, which is reminiscent of the lament of kid’s sports today that everyone gets a trophy.

Back in the 90s and early 2000s, I thought Formula One’s point structure was too restrictive. Hardly anyone got points. Winning the race earned ten points. Second-place got six, while third place received four, fourth place three, fifth place two and sixth place got the final point. 10% of what the winner got went to sixth-place –the same for last-place in today’s IndyCar structure.

I don’t believe a driver finishing last deserves points, but I always thought the seventh-place finisher getting zero points was absurd. That’s why I thought it was a big improvement when F1 went to their current structure in 2003, where the winning driver gets twenty-five points, second-place gets eighteen, third –place earns fifteen points, then it dwindles down to where the tenth-place driver gets the final available point. It’s still restrictive, but it’s better than cutting it off at sixth-place. Under the current F1 structure, tenth-place pays 10% that winning does.

In know USAC and AAA used a system based on the length of the race, with 500-mile races paying five times as much as 100-mile races. It seems simple, but with so many varied race distances on the schedule – it got a little confusing.

What I always considered the best point structure in racing was the old CART system. It paid points through twelfth-place. Winning the race paid twenty points, second-place was worth sixteen points, third paid fourteen, fourth earned you twelve points and all the way down to twelfth-place earning the final single point. In the days when there were twenty-four cars on the grid, half of the positions earned points. This year, there are twenty-seven fulltime cars on the grid, so a little less than half get points.

If you are finishing in the second half of the field, do you really deserve points?

I’ve heard the argument that collecting points will make it worth it for a team to do a repair job on a damaged car. My argument to that is how safe is that damaged car? If it is not up to speed, it becomes a hazard when it returns to the track as it rolls around hoping for more attrition so they can move up as the race continues. Others claim that some high-attrition races would not have that many cars on-track at the end of races. Does a race really need a bunch of back markers, in order to qualify as a “good race”?

As far as bonus points go, I’m fine with how CART did it for years. A driver got a single bonus point for winning the pole, and another point for leading the most laps in the race. The current IndyCar series pays one bonus point for winning the pole, but two bonus points for leading the most laps. That sort of de-emphasizes winning the pole; but I don’t have a huge problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is the ridiculous practice that IndyCar started in 2013, where a driver earned a bonus point for leading a lap. Seriously? There are a lot of random lap leaders in every race, simply by a few leaders pitting in front of them. In last weekend’s race at St. Petersburg for instance, David Malukas led two laps, although he was never considered any type of a factor whatsoever – and he did well to finish tenth. But he accumulated a bonus point because he led two laps during the last round of pit stops on Lap 72-73. Those are cheap points in a series that already likes to give out too many points.

They always say winning an IndyCar race pays the driver fifty points, but it’s really fifty-one. How can you win a race without leading a lap?

I am under the opinion that points should be precious, but attainable. Under the old F1 system, they weren’t really attainable unless you drove for one of the top teams. Under the current IndyCar structure, points are given out for showing up. Think about it; so long as you start a race – you get five points. Over the course of the season, that would give you a total of eighty-five points, even if you just parked the car after one lap.

Will Power collected 560 total points in winning the IndyCar title last season – sixteen points over Josef Newgarden. I think had points been valuable, Power probably would’ve still won the championship – but if they stopped rewarding last place in every race, I’m guessing the middle part of the grid would look a lot different. I’m too lazy to put a spreadsheet together to replicate last year’s finishes and how the championship standing would look a lot different under the CART system – but I’d be willing to bet that it would.

The Leader Club would be a lot more interesting also, and not reward those who simply rode around in the back of the field. The two last-place fulltime cars in the final standings for 2022 were the two Foyt cars. Dalton Kellett was dead-last with 133 points. As I said, he would’ve earned 85 points by parking after one lap in each race. That means in seventeen races, he only accumulated forty-eight additional points. That may or may not have involved receiving bonus points for leading some random laps.

Under the CART system, Dalton Kellett would have received zero points for all of 2022. I have nothing against Dalton Kellett and I understand he is a great guy. But given his results where his best finish was seventeenth and he only had one other finish better than twentieth – did he really deserve to get 25% of the number of total points that Will Power earned in winning a championship. The current IndyCar point-difference is not proportional to the difference in performance and results.

CART did a lot of self-destructive things in the years of The Split, but their on-track product was pretty good. One reason for that is they had a point-structure that rewarded winning and performance over consistency and showing up. Penske Entertainment has changed a lot of things, since taking over in January of 2020 – some with better results than others. One of the positives was removing double-points from the Indianapolis 500. I am hopeful that sooner than later, they will adopt the old CART point structure that will make every point valuable and will stop rewarding sub-par performance on-track.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Make Every Point More Valuable”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    George, I calculate the Indycar points using the CART system (I also do USAC) after each race and I have the tables going back to 2009, I believe. If you ever want to see the results, just ask.

    I don’t know how much variation in the points you are expecting when recalculating under the CART system, but in my years recalculating points I have rarely seen it have much of an impact on the final standings. Rarely do drivers (outside of the very back of the field) move up or down more than a position or two, if they move at all. Here is last year’s standings, and how many positions each driver would move up or down using the CART system:

    1 Will Power 0
    2 Josef Newgarden 0
    3 Scott Dixon -1
    4 Scott McLaughlin +1
    5 Álex Palou 0
    6 Marcus Ericsson -1
    7 Pato O’Ward +1
    8 Felix Rosenqvist -2
    9 Alexander Rossi +1
    10 Colton Herta +1
    11 Graham Rahal -2
    12 Rinus VeeKay 0
    13 Romain Grosjean +2
    14 Christian Lundgaard   0
    15 Simon Pagenaud 0
    16 David Malukas   0
    17 Conor Daly -1
    18 Hélio Castroneves -2
    19 Takuma Sato +2
    20 Callum Ilott  -1
    21 Jimmie Johnson +2
    22 Jack Harvey -2
    23 Devlin DeFrancesco   -4
    24 Kyle Kirkwood   -1
    25 Dalton Kellett No Pts
    26 Tony Kanaan +4
    27 Ed Carpenter No Pts
    28 Santino Ferrucci +5
    29 Tatiana Calderón  No Pts
    30 J. R. Hildebrand +2
    31 Juan Pablo Montoya +5
    32 Simona de Silvestro No Pts
    33 Marco Andretti No Pts
    34 Sage Karam No Pts
    35 Stefan Wilson No Pts

    No one would move in or out of the top 10, only one swap would happen in the top 20 (for 20th) and no part-timer would qualify for the Leader’s Circle (if part-timers were allowed to qualify).

    I am in agreement that the CART points system did a good job making points both attainable and valuable and I do prefer it to the current Indycar points system. However, the current Indycar points system produces such similar results to the CART system that I don’t think it has been producing unworthy finishing orders or champions. Given the nature of the Leader’s Circle is to encourage season-long participation, I understand the series’ desire to award points to every starter. The racing points system was originally created in large part to encourage season-long participation in AAA-sanctioned events (yes, Indycar has had a points system longer than most, if not all, racing series on the planet).

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Here are the differences using the USAC system, which produces more variation. Again though, the top 10 remains a different mix of the same and the top 20 sees only one swap at the back end.

    1 Will Power 0
    2 Josef Newgarden -1
    3 Scott Dixon -3
    4 Scott McLaughlin +2
    5 Álex Palou -2
    6 Marcus Ericsson +2
    7 Pato O’Ward +2
    8 Felix Rosenqvist -1
    9 Alexander Rossi +1
    10 Colton Herta 0
    11 Graham Rahal -2
    12 Rinus VeeKay +1
    13 Romain Grosjean +1
    14 Christian Lundgaard -1
    15 Simon Pagenaud +1
    16 David Malukas 0
    17 Conor Daly -1
    18 Hélio Castroneves -3
    19 Takuma Sato -1
    20 Callum Ilott -3
    21 Jimmie Johnson +2
    22 Jack Harvey -4
    23 Devlin DeFrancesco -5
    24 Kyle Kirkwood -3
    25 Dalton Kellett No Pts
    26 Tony Kanaan +9
    27 Ed Carpenter No Pts
    28 Santino Ferrucci +6
    29 Tatiana Calderón No Pts
    30 J. R. Hildebrand +5
    31 Juan Pablo Montoya +7
    32 Simona de Silvestro No Pts
    33 Marco Andretti No Pts
    34 Sage Karam No Pts
    35 Stefan Wilson No Pts

    Note: I round up or down to the nearest 50 mile race distance marker (150-200-250, etc.) when calculating using the USAC system rather than calculating out the descending range of 2 to 0.1 points per race mile for the top 12 to the exact race distance (as I have seen others do). As far as I can tell, this was USAC’s practice as well.

  3. I for one agree that today’s points system is too much like “everyone gets a trophy”. I don’t know what the right answer is, but maybe something like P1 – P20 get points; Pole, leading the most laps, and the fastest race lap each gets one point. I’ve never been a fan rewarding the back end of the grid, but this might provide enough incentive to improve their performance.

  4. I would prefer top 15 get points, with a scaling of points similar to F1. Then a point for pole position, point for most laps led, and fastest lap.

  5. I, too, like the CART points structure, but it’s hard to argue against the current system that has kept the championship fight open until the last race for nearly 20 years. Except for 2016, double points at the Sonoma finale was not a factor in keeping the outcome in doubt. I would have no problem with IndyCar reverting to the CART system, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (unless you’re Brian France, who fixed NASCAR until he broke it).

  6. Joseph Mudrak Says:

    Rich people problems.

  7. “points should be precious, but attainable”

    Says it all. Of the above two examples I would go for the USAC system but points for turning up or leading seems over the top.

  8. Ooh, points systems. Now, there is a topic that is near and dear. Like most folks here, I’ve done a LOT of looking at various systems over the past three-ish decades, and I have my issues with many of them (the pre-Chase NASCAR Cup format being WAY too rewarding of cruising around and/or just showing up vs not being nearly rewarding enough of wins or top-5s, the pre-2003 F1 system being FAR too restrictive in only awarding points to the top-6, being the two worst offenders), but I actually don’t have much issue with the IndyCar system, to the point where I feel like it’s about as perfect a system as I’ve seen.

    It’s true that only awarding points for the top-6 (like the old, longtime F1 system), -8 (like the 2003-09 F1 system), -10 (like the current F1 system does) or -12 (as the old CART system did) does make even a single point more precious, but my issue is that finishing an inch behind the last point scoring car winds up holding exactly the same value as taking the green flag and immediately pulling off the track…..or even not showing up to the track at all. Awarding points all the way through the field does provide an incentive for teams to go to all of the races, and it also allows a chance to show that a 13th place finish is better than, say, a 22nd or 25th place finish (in IndyCar’s system, a 13th place is worth just over double a 22nd place finish, and about 3.5 times a 25th place finish). I don’t think that this is so much “participation trophy” stuff so much as it’s “fairly sorting out which of the midpack cars finished ahead of the others over the course of the season”. As billytheskink points out above, changing points systems generally has less affect on the top-10 cars, likely due to the fact that wins, top-3s, etc are well valued above midpack finishes. One can certainly debate whether a win should be valued at more than 25% over a 2nd place (this, by the way, is exactly the same as it was in the CART system), or 67% more than a 5th place or 150% more than a 10th place, but those values feel around about right to me. Your mileage may vary, obviously.

    The other thing that I like about the current IndyCar system is that it’s VERY easy to remember. A win is 50 points. 2nd is 40 points. 5th is 30 points. 10th is 20 points. 20th is 10 points. The positions in between are easy increments in between. The bonus points thing is debatable, obviously, but I’ll just chime in that in my ideal system (I’ve used this actual IndyCar based system in my own fantasy racing league for a decade and a half now, with basically no tweaks) would be 3 points for a pole (this puts enough of a premium on qualifying to, say, make a pole and a 4th place finish worth as much as a 3rd place, and anybody who’s REALLY good at winning poles to pile up extra bonus points), 2 points for leading the most laps, 2 points for fastest lap (this provides incentive for every driver to keep trying to go fast all the way through to the end of the race…..and yes, I’m still gloating that F1 came around to this idea about 10 years after I adopted it), and zero points for just leading a lap (too easy to fluke into that). I’ve scored all of the major championships (F1, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA, and NASCAR Cup) with this system since 2008, and in my obviously biased opinion, I feel like it both almost always results in championships that come down to the wire with combatants taking different paths (“extreme speed + inconsistency” often going against “a little less speed + more consistent”) and it always results in a deserving champion. But again, I’m biased.

  9. I’m still of the mindset that getting rid of points all together is best.

    Champion is driver who wins most races. Simple. Whenever their is a tie then the driver with more seconds or thirds etc if required.

  10. Juan Pablo Montoya should have won the 2015 title because double points at Sonoma was not a good choice for a points system. Apart from that, I don’t have anything to criticize about recent points systems.

    • billytheskink Says:

      The 2015 title race has a couple of interesting quirks. The primary one, of course, is that the very first explicitly double points finale (technically 2014 had a double points finale, but that was because it was a 500 miler at Fontana not because it was the finale) allowed Dixon to tie Montoya on points and take the title 478-474.

      The second one, though, is that no qualifying points were awarded at the 2015 Indy 500 time trials (not even the single point for pole!) as initially planned due to the multiple Chevrolet aerokit rollover wrecks during practice altering the qualifying format. Dixon took pole while Montoya qualified 15th, which would have given Dixon 42 qualifying points to Montoya’s 19 had the points still been in place (giving Dixon a 516-497 edge in the final standings without double points). While the strange circumstances made awarding qualifying points somewhat unfair (which is why they were scrapped), Dixon was also at or near the top of the “no-tow” speed charts all week during practice while Montoya was usually around 9th to 15th, so such a points gap would quite likely have occurred had qualifying proceeded as originally planned.

  11. Phooey. I almost never miss reading your blog on the day it was published, but I missed this one and it was on one of my favorite topics. So I apologize for coming to this discussion so late. I agree with most of what you say here, George, but I don’t think that the CART system is the ideal. Under it, a driver with a first and a last would be tied with a driver with a pair of 5th place finishes, and I don’t think that’s right. I’d rather have the first and the last. The CART system, like the current IndyCar system, just doesn’t place enough of an emphasis upon winning, and in so doing it encourages drivers to play it safe instead of going for the win. I addressed this in detail in an extended thread in my Twitter account earlier this month, along with a description of the method that I propose and the results that it would have produced last year (it would have been fantastic), so I’ll just link to it here:

  12. Britindycarfan26 Says:

    The Old top 12 cart system and/or modern f1 top ten points system are pretty good for most races off 20-24car fields …… as I believe as a principal a races bottom quarter/third/ at absolute most half off the field shouldn’t get points (personally I thing bottom third is ideal) just for turning up that can be rewarded by participation money if musta need not necessarily points …… also I like current f1 system now has additional systems for awarded points in 1/4-1/2-3/4 quarters ratios for shortened races now which is good ……the catch for indycar is you then have the “500” and it’s field off normally 33 cars! So points Have to get deeper into the field … so while I didn’t like double points (for full field) for Indy 500 I do think it’s unfortunately necessary for the race winner compared to any other race winners … so just for the big race I think 50 points for winner all the way down to a single point for 25th is fair enough if race goes the full 500 miles which is double mileage off virtually every other race in the season ……but yes in general agree points can go up in 1s and 2s in midfield but at the top 3-9 positions points have to go up in bigger increments to give bigger emphasis on race wins! And slightly less on podiums

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