Winston Cup points format needs some horsepower

Nov 6, 2001 8:55 AM

The 2001 Auto Racing season is almost finished. Nearly every major series championship has been crowned. The Formula-1 season is done with Michael Schumacher walking away with another title.

In the IRL, Sam Hornish went start to finish in dominating fashion to win and in the CART FedEx series, Gil de Ferran won for second consecutive year.

Odds were not posted on the open-wheel series to win the championship locally in Nevada. The only futures offered were in the NASCAR Series. Jack Sprague won the Craftsman Truck Series title last week in the season finale at California Speedway. Sprague opened the season at a 8 to 5 favorite at Station Casino’s properties, but was quickly raised to get action after Sprague slumped and rookie Scott Riggs dominated the first half of the season.

Kevin Harvick clinched the Busch Series title last week with one race remaining. The only series remaining in Auto-Racing with a chase still on is in the Winston Cup series.

However, chase is a far stretch considering points leader Jeff Gordon has a 326 point lead with only three races remaining. If Ricky Rudd were to win the final three races, all Gordon would have to do is average a 28th place finish in those races to get the title. Last week at Rockingham, Gordon finished 25th in a race where he showed nothing. It was hard to watch this year’s eventual champ just sit there and let bad cars pass him all day long for the purpose of laying up to win a championship. The folks in North Carolina did not pay top dollar to see one of the series most popular drivers lay up to win a championship at another track. That is why there should be some kind of remodification of the points structure.

There have been many arguments for and against changing the rules to win a championship. Most of the reluctancy relies the traditional aspect of the sport. The current Winston Cup formula started in 1973, which hardly makes it a candidate for historical notoriety. If Baseball can bring in a designated hitter after 90 years of play along with interleague play after 110 years, NASCAR can do some restructuring. The main objective is to leave the point structure the way it is. Some have suggested that giving more points to the winner is the way to go, but that would take away from the driver who continually finishes up front every week.

The proper way may be to eliminate the three worst finishes of the season for every driver and tally the points using the current point structure.

There are 36 races now, which is a rule change in itself. By eliminating the three worst finishes, that would take each driver to a status of 33 races, the same amount they drove way back in 1998. By doing so, the races would be much more competitive this late in the season.

If Gordon clinches this week, he’ll be right back in the hunt for a race win at Atlanta and New Hampshire, but coming into this week’s race on the flat track of Miami, Gordon is a season high 7-1 to win this race. Miami has only had two Cup races in it’s short history where Gordon has finished in the top 10 twice, but it still remains one of the few tracks that he doesn’t have a win on.

When calculating all the drivers performances at Miami and similar tracks, Gordon doesn’t factor into the winning equation.

Then when adding on the additional burden of trying to win a championship, he falls off the chart to 7-1.

Homestead-Miami Speedway is the flattest track on the circuit. It is a 1.5 mile oval that provides the most boring, uncompetitve races in the history of NASCAR. If it weren’t for the sake of providing a venue in the South Florida market, this race would have never happened. We could only be so lucky to have a typically weak cookie cutter track this week in place of the Miami race.

As uneventful as the race may be, there is still an opportunity to wager and money to be made this week. Tony Stewart (3-1) comes in as the favorite for the simple reason that he has won every Cup race in track history. Despite his inconsistent performance this season, on everything we have seen from Stewart is that he likes to do well at the tracks he traditionally has done well at over his short career. Stewart’s win at all costs mentality was never more prevalent than in the inaugural race of ’99. That was the year he was a rookie and gave his teammate, Bobby Labonte (5-1), a rude tap during a pass. Labonte was the star of Gibbs racing and it is was a foreshadow to the type of driving that we all know Stewart for now. If Stewart has a chance to win the race, he will at all costs, which definitely bodes well for the bettor.

Labonte is one of three drivers to have two Top 5 finishes at Miami.

He has a second and fourth place finish on the track that places a premium on chassis set-up.

Gibbs apparently has things together at Miami. The shared information between the two Gibbs drivers is unparalleled in Cup racing. No team does as much sharing with each individual operation as they do.

Last season, Labonte was in a situation much like Gordon is in, but Labonte went all out and won the title with a fourth place finish.

Only three races are left on the season and Labonte wants to lay claim on at least one of them.

This week may well be his greatest chance.

Mark Martin (15-1) is the other driver to finish in the Top 5 in both Miami races. based on what we have seen out him and the other Roush Racing drivers, it doesn’t appear as though he’s a good candidate.

But looking at the Cup record 17 different drivers to have won this season, it would be a shame if Martin didn’t finish the season as one of them.

Other drivers to watch this week are Kenny Wallace (12-1), Mike Wallace (20-1), and Ricky Rudd (5-1).

Top 5 finish prediction:
1) #20 Tony Stewart (3-1)
2) #18 Bobby Labonte (5-1)
3) #1 Kenny Wallace (12-1)
4) #12 Mike Wallace (20-1)
5) #28 Ricky Rudd (5-1)