Points system will stand pat for now

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 12:53 a.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - NASCAR's points system will remain unchanged from last year, when the debut of a 10-race shootout format resulted in the closest championship finish in series history.
''We feel like we have a pretty good system and we're set for '05,'' NASCAR chairman Brian France said Monday. ''We did look hard at making any potential adjustments.''
In 2004, France began his first year as head of NASCAR by overhauling the decades-old points system and creating a playoff structure for 10 drivers over the final 10 events of the Nextel Cup season.
Five drivers went into the November season finale with a chance to win the title. When the race ended at Homestead-Miami Speedway, only eight points separated champion Kurt Busch from runner-up Jimmie Johnson.
That, France said, was proof that the system worked. The only time NASCAR had more drivers in contention was 1992, when six raced in the finale with a shot to win the title. Alan Kulwicki beat Bill Elliott by 10 points.
''You know, 2004 is undoubtedly going to go down as either the greatest season we've ever had, or one of the greatest seasons we've ever had,'' France said. ''Did we make racing better?
''Was the racing on the track more exciting? Did we showcase the opportunities for the best drivers in the world to do their thing? And the answer is absolutely, and the Chase was a big part of that.''
Again, the first 26 of the season's 36 races will be used to determine the participants for the 10-race championship finale. The top 10 in the standings following the race at Richmond in September - plus any driver within 400 points of first place - will have their points totals reset for the final 10 events.
''We will go through another cycle in 2005 and take a look at it, but on balance we're happy with where we are,'' France said.
In resisting the urge to tinker with the system, NASCAR will begin the season without any major changes for the first time in four years.
NASCAR went into 2002 with an emphasis on safety following the death a year earlier of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. Realignment, and moving races out of the South and into larger markets, was the theme in 2003.
Last season, there were a slew of changes, from France beginning his reign to a new series sponsor in Nextel as well as the revamped points system.
So, by standing pat, France had nothing to announce when the Nextel Cup media tour made its annual stop at NASCAR's Research and Development Center.
Instead, he used his time to give a State of the NASCAR address and denying rumors that he was looking to leave the family-run business to pursue bringing an NFL team to Los Angeles.
''I'm only 42 years old. It's a little too early to retire. I am not planning to go anywhere, and I don't know where any of that started,'' said France, recently listed second to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in The Sporting News' rankings of the most powerful people in sports.
France said he will spend this season working on cost containment, continue his focus on safety issues and a push toward diversity. He said NASCAR will continue to market itself internationally, and pointed to the Busch series race in March in Mexico City as the first step.
But France said there are no plans to stage a Nextel Cup race in Mexico or Canada anytime soon.
He said NASCAR is still trying to enter the New York City market, but deferred all questions to his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, head of family-controlled International Speedway Corp.
France Kennedy said she hoped the series would be racing in New York ''the latter part of the decade,'' and that ISC officials were working on traffic plans to sell the project to officials there.
ISC has already spent $100 million for more than 450 acres of dormant industrial land on Staten Island, and plans to buy additional land next year for $10 million. In all, it wants to put together 660 acres, which it said would be the largest undeveloped block of land within New York City.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has voiced doubts about traffic jams that might be generated by the track.
''Traffic is always a concern,'' France Kennedy said. ''But we are only talking about several days a year, and on a weekend. So we would not be competing with commuter traffic.''

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