NASCAR changing scoring for championship

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 22, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. - NASCAR is going to have a 10-race showdown for this year's Nextel Cup championship in a bid to emphasize winning and add excitement.

Just don't call it a playoff.

''It's not a playoff,'' NASCAR chairman Brian France emphasized Tuesday after the announcement that the top 10 drivers and any others within 400 points of the leader following the first 26 races will be included in its new ''Chase for the Championship.''

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''It's not a single elimination, a lose and you're out or a best three-out-of-five,'' France explained. ''It still has consistency, 10 tracks and 2 1/2 months to compete, so we think we've got something that's better than a playoff.''

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the son of a seven-time Winston Cup champion, isn't so sure that's true.

''The only thing, personally, that is important to me is, if and when I win a championship, how is it going to be compared to championships that my father won?'' Earnhardt said. ''Will it be the same, better, not as good?''

The change is a bid by NASCAR to put more emphasis on winning and energize the stock car sport that has seen too many championships decided early in recent years.

NASCAR has been criticized for using a points system that rewarded consistency more than winning.

Matt Kenseth led the standings most of the season, built a huge lead and ran away with the 2003 championship despite finishing first in just one race. Ryan Newman was sixth in the standings despite winning a series-high eight races.

It's hoped that the changes to the system, in place since 1975, increase attendance and TV ratings that usually drop in the fall because of competition from the World Series, college football and the NFL.

The drivers involved in the championship showdown will have their point totals adjusted. The first-place driver will begin the final 10 races with 5,050 points, the second driver 5,045 and so on, with incremental drops of five points for all those involved in the championship showdown.

If that system had been used in 2003, Jimmie Johnson would have won the championship by 55 points over Jeff Gordon, while Kenseth would have finished sixth.