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Why The Winston Cup Points System Would Not Work in Modern NASCAR

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What’s Happening?

We, as NASCAR fans, constantly see a lot of complaints online about how the current NASCAR Playoff System is inferior to the NASCAR points system back in the Winston Cup days. Many fans and commentators alike keep track of how the points would be if NASCAR still had the old system. And, just for fun, a couple even keep track as if NASCAR used an F1-style points system.

But that’s not the reality we live in, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can argue about the Playoff format until the end of time, but it’s the system we’ve got at the end of the day. For the sake of argument, think back to when the post-season-style points system was first introduced as the Chase for the Cup back in 2004. Do you remember why the Chase was introduced?

In reality, a NASCAR post-season was being talked about years before the 2003 season. But it was that year which broke the camel’s back. In 2003, Matt Kenseth walked away with the NASCAR Cup Series title and it wasn’t even close. Jimmie Johnson came in second that year, -90 points back from Kenseth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in third, -207 from the leader. Matt Kenseth essentially ran away with it, and the biggest criticism he had was that he had “just rode around” at the season finale in Homestead. I mean, come on, he finished dead last!

In response, NASCAR introduced the Chase for the Cup to emphasize winning over all else and that eventually evolved into the NASCAR Playoffs. In the modern world in which we live today, some form of the NASCAR Playoffs have to be a permanent fixture for NASCAR’s top series. Now, let’s talk about why.

A Rundown on The Current System

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of all of this, let’s first talk about the system we have now. Stripping away the stages for a moment, with a 40-car maximum field, the winner of the race gets 40 points. Second place gets 39, third gets 38, and all the way down until we reach 40th (if there are 40 cars in the race), which gets 1 point.

To illustrate this, check out the list below:

  • Race Winner: 40 points
  • 2nd Place: 39 points
  • 3rd Place: 38 points
  • 4th Place: 37 points
  • 5th Place: 36 points
  • 6th Place: 35 points
  • 7th Place: 34 points
  • 8th Place: 33 points
  • 9th Place: 32 points
  • 10th Place: 31 points

So on and so forth until we get all the way down to:

  • 40th Place: 1 point

Now, let’s factor in the stage points. Only the top 10 get stage points. The stage winner gets 10, the second in the stage gets 9, all the way down to 10th place, which gets 1. So, if you won the race but also swept the stages, you get 60 points to your credit, a race maximum.

Stage points are dished out as follows and added to a driver’s point total (above) following the race:

  • Stage winner: 10 points
  • 2nd Place: 9 points
  • 3rd Place: 8 points
  • 4th Place: 7 points
  • 5th Place: 6 points
  • 6th Place: 5 points
  • 7th Place: 4 points
  • 8th Place: 3 points
  • 9th Place: 2 points
  • 10th Place: 1 point

The winner of each stage then gets 1 playoff point that can be used in each round of the postseason. The race winner gets 5 playoff points.

This system promotes winning above all else with the winner of any given race shooting to the top of the playoff grid. The more wins you have, the more of a lock you are for the post-season.

This is the basic gist of the system we have now. But if you want to know more and learn how the playoffs are formatted, check out this article:

How The Winston Cup Points System Worked

What we consider the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points system was created by Bob Latford for the 1975 season and beyond. It was NASCAR’s go-to points system from ’75 all the way until 2003. From 2004 to 2010, the Latford system somewhat remained, but with the addition of a points reset after the 26th race of the season, which was followed by a 10-race playoff or Chase for the Cup. Previous NASCAR points system rewarded different points for different events, taking things like mileage and purse money into account. The Latford System was the first ever equal points system race to race.

From the years 1975-2003, points were awarded as follows:

  • Race Winner: 175 points
  • 2nd Place: 170 points
  • 3rd Place: 165 points
  • 4th Place: 160 points
  • 5th Place: 155 points
  • 6th Place: 150 points
  • 7th Place: 146 points
  • 8th Place: 142 points
  • 9th Place: 138 points
  • 10th Place: 134 points
  • 11th Place: 130 points
  • 12th Place 127 points

Take a good look at the amount awarded for each position. For 1st through 6th, there is a 5-point difference between the finishing drivers. From 7th down to 11th, there is a 4-point difference. Starting at 12, there is a 3-point difference, and that runs all the way down until we finally get to 1 point, which is for the 54th-place finisher.

From 2004-2006, the points earned by the race winner increased to 180 points. It was increased again to 185 for the seasons between 2007 and 2010. A driver could receive 5 bonus points for leading a lap and an additional 5 bonus points for leading the most laps.

Why Winston Cup Points Wouldn’t Work Today

The Latford System Was Busy and Too Confusing

When it comes to fans complaining that the NASCAR Playoff format is somewhat confusing, I hear you. But let’s not pretend that the Winston Cup era points system wasn’t confusing as well. The primary reason why the Latford System wouldn’t work today is that it’s too hard to calculate how many points your driver is earning in real time. With the current system, if your driver passes a car, it’s easy: that’s one point they gained. If they get passed by one car, that’s one point they lost. With the Latford System, points often vary between 5, 4, and 3 points each pass which can get confusing when trying to keep track of your driver’s progress in the points standings. One position, one point, just makes more sense.

The Current System Promotes Winning

Another reason the current system is better overall than the Latford system because it does what it was set out to do: emphasize the importance of winning. Look, I know the playoff system (particularly in the Xfinity and Truck Series) has been broken in the past. And I do still think there’s a debate to be had about moving away from the winner-take-all championship finale and doing a whole championship round. But we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about drivers having the incentive to win more races.

In 2003, Matt Kenseth, the eventual champion, only won 1 race–it was the 3rd race of the year at Las Vegas. He was consistent throughout the rest of the year but when he was crowned champion in November, he was in an active 33 race winless streak that stretched over the span of 9 months. When you factor in the fact that he finished dead-last in the season finale, you can imagine how underwhelming he was as the NASCAR champion.

To further prove the point, Carl Edwards had almost the exact same season in 2011. He was very consistent, but he only won 1 race the whole year, and that, too, came at Las Vegas in early March. Under the Latford System, Edwards would have waltzed away with the Cup at season’s end. Instead, we had an intense battle between Edwards and eventual champion Tony Stewart, who turned on all of his jets in those last 10 races and won 5 of the 10. Technically speaking, Edwards and Stewart tied. But because Stewart had 5 wins to Edwards 1, Stewart was crowned champion. This was also the first year of the 1 position=1 point system, which made it easier for fans to track. Any points system can (and will be) broken from time to time. But, by and large, the current system does promote winning over all else in spite of what flaws the playoff format might have.

The Balancing Act Between Sport and Entertainment

Whether it’s something you want to talk about or not, sports need to be 2 things: legitimate and entertaining. Is there room for improvement in the legitimacy of the NASCAR Playoff system? Sure. But we’re not strictly talking about just the post-season. Entertainment makes or breaks a sport. If a sport isn’t entertaining enough if there isn’t enough drama and high stakes, nobody’s going to watch. Because the point system is 1 position=1 point and because of the added saving grace of stage points, drivers are driving their cars harder than ever before. This makes for a superior racing product, unlike the “boring” races where the championship points leader could just play it safe and ride around.

The Latford System was overly complicated and what we have today is easily a better system. Now, in other articles, we can discuss how to tweak the playoff format to further improve the product and legitimacy of the sport.


That does it for me, Daily Downforce readers. What do you think? Do you want to see a return of the Latford System or do you think it’s too convoluted and complex? Would you like to keep our current points system in place but just move away from the post-season concept entirely? Or do you want to keep the playoffs and just change how they’re formatted? Would you change anything at all? Let us know by commenting and sharing your thoughts on all of our social media pages. In the meantime, keep it right here at for all the latest news, rumors, fan discussions and more regarding the great sport of NASCAR.

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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