Monday, April 3, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Double Points Defender

Toyota was fastest in the FIA WEC prologue. Sébastien Buemi didn't win a Formula E race, a race that was spectacular. Jonathan Rea didn't win both Superbike races at Aragón. The top three in World Supersport were covered by 0.153 seconds and defending champion Kenan Sofuoglu was taken out in his first race back from injury. A former IndyCar driver won in Italy. Chad Reed didn't play nice in St. Louis. Neither did Austin Cindric. Nor did Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. It was a very naughty week for lapped traffic this weekend across many series. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Double Points Defender
"Pure means something to purists." The words of Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles when interviewed on The Marshall Pruett Podcast and told by Robin Miller that IndyCar is the most pure form of motorsports.

It is an interesting line from Miles but it speaks to the situation facing IndyCar and every other form of motorsports in the world. "Pure means something to the purist" and like all missions to expand the congregation the missionaries aren't looking for purists. They already have the purists. The congregation expands with the pagans and hoping they see a light and follow its calling.

Miller's opposition to double points stems from the IndyCar championship coming down to the final race every year without needing any form of aid. Since 2005, the championship has come down to the finale by nothing but having at least one driver and sometimes more within grasp of the championship leader in someway. Drivers have entered covered by single digits, where one position is all that is needed to decide the champion and then there have been years where one guy needs to win and have the championship leader finish next to last.

Since 2014, IndyCar has had double points for the finale. In 2014, Fontana was the finale but the other 500-mile races at Indianapolis and Pocono were also double points. That changed in 2015 when Fontana moved to June but Indianapolis remained double points and the finale, which occurred at Sonoma, became double points and it stayed that way last season and continues for this year.

For the longest time, very few IndyCar races were paying the same points. Races didn't start paying the same points until the 1983 CART season. Before that, the USAC system paid points with the winner getting double the race mileage. Win the Indianapolis 500, get 1,000 points. Win the Hoosier Hundred, get 200 points. Second got 80% of the winner's points total with the point total descending by ten-percent until eighth where it descended by five-percent from seventh with 12th-place, the final position getting points, receiving five-percent of the winner's total.

The golden-era many, Miller included, beholds as IndyCar's gospel were when 75% of the races were worth one-fifth of the Indianapolis 500. Double points are nothing new and decrying it as erosion of IndyCar's dogma is absurd. Don't get me wrong, I would rather have every race worth the same amount of points and Indianapolis 500 qualifying not having its own separate points system and I would love people to fall in love with IndyCar and any form of motorsports and watch every race because each will be something new and unexpected and watch regardless if the top seven in the championship were covered by five points or the championship was locked up with five races remaining.

However, people need some stakes to watch. Some will always watch regardless because the race provides some comfort in their life but most need a greater picture and watching a race for the sake of watching a race isn't enough. All sports have a championship and it is what we all care about. If it is already decided, people are going to be less inclined to watch.

Some think double points are bad for IndyCar and waters down the championship but unlike the NASCAR Chase where the result of the finale is all that decides the champion; the IndyCar championship is still an aggregate of every race that comprises the championship. Do double points allow more in the fight? Perhaps but look at it this way, everyone is looking to get more involved. The Major League Baseball postseason expanded to have one additional wild card team five years ago. The NFL has been considering adding another wild card team the last few years. Even the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011.

If the finale goes from having two drivers eligible for championship to five, so be it. The top five drivers aren't slouches; most of them likely have a victory and a handful of podiums. It's not like a driver whose best finish is ninth is all of a sudden in contention. Another difference from the Chase format is all the drivers eligible at the IndyCar finale are at the top of the points and IndyCar isn't legislating that a certain number of drivers will be eligible for the title at the finale. If the four drivers are eligible, those are the top four after 16 races or if it is only three drivers than those are the top three. Those aren't drivers who snuck into a field of 16 and had three decent rounds after being mediocre for nearly three-quarters of the season.

Double points might not sit well with most but the IndyCar championship is still decided by the aggregate over 17 races. The points aren't reset. The top finisher in the finale of four drivers isn't the champion if he or she finishes fourth and the other three finish seventh, eighth and 16th. If the finale is going to be at Sonoma and worth double points, maybe make the race a little bit longer than the rest. Maybe increase it to 100 laps and make it the longest road course race of the season and give the fans a little extra racing before the offseason.

Maybe we need to look at double points another way. A driver can still clinch the championship early; it is just going to take more to do so. It is a win-by-two scenario if you will. The most points that can be made up in a double points IndyCar race is 94 points, should at least 25 cars enter, so drivers have a measuring stick. If you want to lock up the championship early, you are going to need at least a 94-point lead and to be championship-eligible entering the finale you have to be within 94 points. It is fairly simple when you think about it.

Ironically, under the USAC format from the so-called IndyCar golden-era, Will Power would have entered Sonoma last year with a 365-point lead over Simon Pagenaud with 400 points on the table and Power only needing an 11th-place finish to be champion. Power would have actually had a chance to clinch the championship at Watkins Glen. Despite the fact that Pagenaud entered Sonoma with a 43-point lead, no one cried nostalgia and said Power should have been the points leader and if that is the case, why should anyone cry about double points? Double points are a 21st century evolution and we shouldn't be Neanderthals and shoot down progress.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Toyota but did you know...

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR race at Martinsville. Chase Elliott won the Truck race.

Lucas di Grassi won the Mexico ePrix from 15th on the grid, the furthest back a Formula E winner has ever started.

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies split the Superbike races from Aragón. Lucas Mahias won in Supersport by 0.014 seconds over Sheridan Morais and American PJ Jacobsen was third.

The #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes of Maximilian Buhk and Franck Perera swept the opening round of Blancpain Sprint Series from Misano.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from St. Louis, his fifth consecutive victory and he now trails Ryan Dungey by four points with four races to go.

Davit Kajaia and Pepe Oriola split the TCR International Series opening weekend at Rustavi International Motorpark in Tbilisi, Georgia. Kajaia's victory was his first career victory and it came at his home track.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar is back in action at Long Beach.
IMSA will also be in Long Beach.
Pirelli World Challenge makes it quite the triple-header from Long Beach.
Formula One's second round is in China.
NASCAR goes to Texas.
MotoGP crosses the Atlantic for a trip to Argentina.
Supercars run the second round of the season at Symmons Plains.
World Rally runs Tour de Corse.
Super GT opens its season at Okayama.
World Touring Car Championship opens its season at Marrakech.