Wondering about NASCAR’s new scoring system? Here are the answers to four pressing questions

How is the new system different from the old one?
Mostly it’s a matter of scale. The old system awarded 185 points for a win (not including bonuses) and 34 for last place in the maximum 43-car field, in varying increments. The new system is more straightforward, with 43 points for first (again, not including bonuses) down to 1 point for last, in equal increments. And while much has been made of trying to make winning a larger part of the equation — the winner now receives 3 bonus points along with up to 2 points in lap-leader bonuses — the biggest difference is that the new system places a greater emphasis on avoiding disaster. Under the old system, last place points were worth 18.4 percent of first-place points. Now last-place points are worth just 2.3 percent of first-place points.

How will Chase qualifying be affected?
Very little, if at all. Had the new system been in place last year, the top 12 drivers after 26 races would have been the same. What’s different this year is that only the top 10 in points will receive automatic Chase berths. The last two spots will be “wild card” berths awarded to the remaining drivers with the most wins. Had this system been in place last season, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer (11th and 12th in points, respectively) would not have been automatic qualifiers. Jamie McMurray, with two regular-season wins, would have received one of the wild-card spots instead of Bowyer (winless in the regular season). Biffle would still have made the Chase, as the remaining wild card. He had 1 win in the regular season, the same as Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and David Reutimann. Biffle’s higher position in the points standings would have served as the tie-breaker. (If every driver outside the top 10 is winless, the wild-card spots will go to the drivers 11th and 12th in points, as before.)

How about the Chase itself?
Again, the changes are minor, and mostly a matter of scale. Now, instead of the points being reset at 5,000 the baseline will be 2,000. Each regular-season win will be worth 3 points in the seedings instead of 10. (Wild-card entrants are seeded last, with no points for regular-season wins.) So regular season wins are actually slightly less important than before. Each is worth 0.15 percent of the baseline, compared to 0.20 percent under the old system.

Will the new system make it harder for Jimmie Johnson to repeat?
Probably not. Had the new system been in place last season, Johnson still would have won — albeit by a narrower margin, even adjusted for scale. In fact, the top five in points would have finished in exactly the same order under the new system. (Take wild card Jamie McMurray out of the revised standings, and the top seven would have been the same.) What the new system does is reduce Johnson’s margin for error. A finish of 40th or worse in the 10-race Chase would be more devastating to the five-time champ under the new system than the old. Of course, the same goes for everyone who’s trying to dethrone him. And if the Chase system has proved anything, it’s that Jimmie Johnson is the driver least likely to make a mistake under pressure.

2010 Chase results (old system)
Rank        Driver        Points
1        Jimmie Johnson    6622    
2        Denny Hamlin    6583
3        Kevin Harvick    6581
4        Carl Edwards    6393
5        Matt Kenseth    6294
6        Greg Biffle        6247
7        Tony Stewart    6221
8        Kyle Busch        6182
9        Jeff Gordon        6176
10        Clint Bowyer    6155
11        Kurt Busch        6142
12        Jeff Burton        6033

2010 Chase results (new system)
Rank        Driver        Points
1        Jimmie Johnson    2403
2        Denny Hamlin    2398
3        Kevin Harvick    2396
4        Carl Edwards    2340
5        Matt Kenseth    2314
6        Jamie McMurray    2309
7        Greg Biffle        2293
8        Tony Stewart    2290
9        Jeff Gordon        2279
10        Kyle Busch        2276
11        Kurt Busch        2271
12        Jeff Burton        2232

ONE TO WATCH: Kevin Harvick
WHY HE MATTERS: He’s gunning for his third straight Budweiser Shootout win — and Budweiser is his new sponsor.
WHAT HE SAYS: “When you look at the drivers that have been in the Budweiser car — it's just part of NASCAR.”
WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY: He’s a good bet to take care of his sponsor; his average plate-race finish in 2010 was 2.8.
 
NEXT RACE Budweiser Shootout, Daytona International Speedway
THE LOWDOWN Irony alert: With a new points system that’s the talk of the sport, NASCAR opens the 2011 season with a race that offers no points. Not that there will be any shortage of things to talk about in the run-up to the Shootout. Since last season Daytona International Speedway was repaved for the first time since 1979. After pre-season testing, the consensus is that the new surface will produce much better grip and closer competition. Jeff Burton: “It’s going to be Talladega-style racing for sure.” Time trials, which will lock in the front-row starters for next Sunday’s Daytona 500, run the next afternoon.

PAST WINNERS
2010 Kevin Harvick
2009    Kevin Harvick
2008    Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2007    Tony Stewart
2006 Denny Hamlin

ABOUT Daytona
TRACK: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.), 2.5-mile paved oval
RACE LENGTH: 75 laps (187.5 miles), two segments
FIRST SHOOTOUT: 1979
SERIES: NASCAR Sprint Cup

Quote of note
 “We’ll join all of Dale’s fans and his family and we’ll remember Dale and what he meant to all of us.” – NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, talking about the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Where to watch
The Budweiser Shootout airs on Fox on Saturday at 8 p.m.; Daytona 500 qualifying airs on Fox on Sunday at 1 p.m.

UP TO SPEED
Jimmie Johnson’s hidden bonus
One reason that NASCAR’s new points system is unlikely to hinder Jimmie Johnson’s quest for a sixth straight title is that the new system, like the old one, includes lap-leader bonuses. No driver has made better use of those bonus points than Johnson. (Under the bonus system, drivers are awarded points for leading a race, and an additional bonus for leading the most laps.) Last year, Johnson accumulated 155 bonus points, far more than any other driver (see chart). Over the course of the season, all those bonus points are tantamount to a mulligan. Last year, for example, Johnson scored 120 bonus points during the regular season — roughly the equivalent of a 14th-place finish. Having what amounts to an extra top-20 finish in hand allows the 48 team to clinch a spot early and begin focusing on the Chase. While the numbers will be different under the new system, the net result will be the same. And it’s fitting that the new maximum number of points, including bonuses, available per race is the same as Johnson’s car number: 48.

So what else is new?
Although the new points system received the most hype, NASCAR has made several other significant changes for the 2011 season.
• If qualifying is rained out, the lineup will be set according to practice speeds rather than by the points standings.
• NASCAR has switched to E15 ethanol fuel and has eliminated the “catch can” man on pit stops, reducing the over-the-wall crew members from seven to six.
• Drivers can declare for just one championship in each of the top three series. That will end the stranglehold that double-dipping Sprint Cup drivers have had on the Nationwide series championship in recent seasons. (But it’s likely that Cup drivers will continue to win most Nationwide races; they just won’t get any points for doing so. So this year’s Nationwide title will amount to a “Best in Class” award.


Shootout qualifications
It would take less time to list the drivers who aren’t eligible for the Budweiser Shootout than the ones who are. Seriously. An event that started as a 20-lap sprint for the previous season’s pole winners has evolved into a two-part, 75-lap invitational open to: the 12 Chase drivers from 2010; past Sprint Cup champions; past Shootout winners; past Daytona Sprint Cup points race winners; and Sprint Cup rookies of the year from 2001 to 2010. The eclectic group of eligible drivers includes former Daytona 500 winners Bill Elliott, Derrike Cope and Geoff Bodine; former Cup champions Terry Labonte and his brother Bobby; and former ROY winners Regan Smith and Kevin Conway — but not David Reutimann, Brad Keselowski or Marcos Ambrose, among others.

Milestone
Bill Elliott holds the record for Budweiser Shootout starts (23), one more than Mark Martin. Each made his first Shootout start in 1982.

WEEKLY STATS
2010 bonus points

Rank        Driver        Bonus points
1        Jimmie Johnson    155
2        Denny Hamlin    125
3        Kyle Busch        115
3        Jeff Gordon        115
5        Tony Stewart    110
6 (tie)    Jeff Burton        95
6        Kurt Busch        95
6        Juan Montoya    95
9        Kevin Harvick    90
10        Clint Bowyer    80
11        Jamie McMurray    75
12 (tie)    Greg Biffle        70
12        Carl Edwards    70
14 (tie)    Matt Kenseth    65
14        Mark Martin        65
16        Kasey Kahne    60
17        8 drivers tied    40
25        2 drivers tied    30
27        3 drivers tied    25
30        3 drivers tied    20