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It'll pay to win in NASCAR

Racing circuit adds points for victories, will rank drivers by wins and expands playoff field to 12 in new Chase for Nextel Cup rules.

January 23, 2007|Ed Hinton | Special to The Times

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will emphasize winning individual races more than ever before and will expand its Chase for the Nextel Cup playoff field from 10 to 12 drivers, under new rules announced Monday for the upcoming 2007 season.

An additional five points will be awarded to race winners this season, but the big bonus for outright winning will come during the Chase, whose field will be seeded according to who has the most wins in the regular season.

For example, Kasey Kahne, seeded 10th and last in last year's Chase on overall points accumulation, would have been seeded first under the new format, because of his league-leading five regular-season wins before the Chase began last year.

NASCAR had long been criticized for weighting consistency -- just decent finishes -- more than winning races under its past point structure. Last year, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton qualified for the playoffs with no race wins during the regular season. In 2003, Matt Kenseth won the championship with only one race victory.

"After all, winning is what this sport is all about," team owner Richard Childress said in welcoming the changes.

"I don't like, and no one likes, to hear a driver get out of their car and say, 'I'm happy with an eighth-place finish,' " NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in announcing the changes. "On the other hand, there are 43 teams that compete on the same field at the same time, and we only have one winner. So obviously, our sport is different."

France referred to what he called "the intersection between winning and consistency," and said NASCAR felt a need to "make sure the balance is right" between the two.

Driver Carl Edwards fretted that "a bad day can hurt you so badly in the points," and that "they've made the discrepancy between a great day and a good day a little bigger...."

But Edwards acknowledged that with "two more cars in the Chase . . . you could have more bad days and still make it."

Said France: "Some people will say we went too far, and some will say we didn't go far enough."

Asked whether expanding the playoff field to 12 drivers might dilute the impact of the playoffs, France said that "We're going into the Daytona 500 with 40-plus teams that are fully funded and ready to compete for the championship. So I think we're deep enough for a 12-driver field."

The Daytona 500 is the opening race of the season, Feb. 18.

Once the field is determined after the final regular-season race in September, all playoff contenders will have their points equalized at 5,000 apiece -- except that each will get a 10-point bonus in the seeding structure for each regular-season win.

So Kahne under the new system would have started the Chase with 5,050 points. Matt Kenseth, seeded first under the old system last year because of points, would have been seeded second under the new structure with 5,040 points because of his four regular-season race wins.

Some critics had called for NASCAR to weight winning by as many as 50 extra points. Although the new system falls far short of that, it actually adds a net 15 points per regular-season win, counting the Chase seeding.

NASCAR added five additional points for winning three years ago, for a net total now of 20 extra points from the old structure.

Now, a driver will receive 185 base points for a win, plus an automatic five bonus points for leading at least one lap. Another five are awarded for leading the most laps, so "if a driver does everything right, he can walk away with 195 points" in a given race, France said.

Factor in the seeding points for the Chase, and a championship-contending driver is actually capable of netting a de facto 205 points, as opposed to 170 for finishing second -- a spread of 35.

"It puts more of a premium on winning races, and that's what everybody says this sport needs," team owner Chip Ganassi said.

Whereas teams previously were often satisfied with high finishes rather than gambling on outright wins, "I think you're going to see some people make some different calls in the pits," Ganassi said.

"It's going to make the races better -- certainly the racing at the front better, instead of everybody just droning around out there."

Ed Hinton covers auto racing for Tribune newspapers.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Chase changes gears

NASCAR is changing its format for the Nextel Cup Chase. After the 26th race, the top 12 drivers (instead of 10) will qualify. The drivers' point totals will be reset to 5,000 and each driver will be given 10 points per race victory from the first 26 races. Drivers will be "seeded" based on the number of wins. Standings from last season with the old system compared with how drivers would have been seeded with the new system:

*--* OLD STANDINGS POINTS NEW SEEDINGS WINS POINTS 1. Matt Kenseth 5,050 1. Kasey Kahne 5 5,050 2. Jimmie Johnson 5,045 2. Matt Kenseth 4 5,040 3. Kevin Harvick 5,040 3. Jimmie Johnson 4 5,040 4. Kyle Busch 5,035 4. Kevin Harvick 3 5,030 5. Denny Hamlin 5,030 5. Tony Stewart 2 5,020 6. Dale Earnhardt 5,025 6. Jeff Gordon 2 5,020 Jr. 7. Mark Martin 5,020 7. Denny Hamlin 2 5,020 8. Jeff Burton 5,015 8. Kyle Busch 1 5,010 9. Jeff Gordon 5,010 9. Dale Earnhardt 1 5,010 Jr. 10. Kasey Kahne 5,005 10. Greg Biffle 1 5,010 Tony Stewart ------------ 11. Mark Martin 0 5,000 Greg Biffle ------------ 12. Jeff Burton 0 5,000

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Source: NASCAR

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