Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How Would Stage Points Have Altered the 2017 IndyCar Championship?

There has been a month and a half since the IndyCar season ended and it has given us some time to look back and pick a part what occurred from March to September. Back in August, between Mid-Ohio and Pocono, I took a look at what IndyCar would look like had the series used stage points.

Back in August, with the mythological stage points, Hélio Castroneves would have been the championship leader, not Josef Newgarden as the Brazilian would have scored 144 stage points through Mid-Ohio, more than any other driver, while Newgarden would have had the fourth most stage points with 117 points. Team Penske had the top four positions swept, as Will Power would have had 132 points and Simon Pagenaud would have 123 points.

How would the championship have changed if stage points had been around and awarded in the final four races? In case you are wondering, I used the quarter-post and halfway points to award stage points for these four races, so at Pocono would be lap 50 and lap 100, Gateway lap 62 and lap 124, Watkins Glen lap 15 and lap 30 and Sonoma lap 21 and lap 42.

Here is how the mythical stage points after Sonoma would have looked:

Drivers Stage Points
Castroneves 181
Newgarden 159
Pagenaud 154
Dixon 148
Power 143
Rossi 136
Rahal 120
Hinchcliffe 96
Hunter-Reay 95
Sato 62
Kanaan 58
Hildebrand 56
Chilton 51
Bourdais 42
Daly 39
Pigot 38
Andretti 37
Aleshin 25
Jones 21
Kimball 20
Alonso 17
Vautier 16
Saavedra 12
Muñoz 9
Montoya 3
Gutiérrez 1

And here is what the top 28 positions in the championship would have looked like with stage points:

Driver Championship Points Change in Position
Newgarden 801 0
Pagenaud 783 0
Castroneves 779 +1
Dixon 769 -1
Power 705 0
Rahal 642 0
Rossi 630 0
Hunter-Reay 516 +1
Sato 503 -1
Hinchcliffe 472 +3
Kanaan 461 -1
Chilton 447 -1
Andretti 425 -1
Hildebrand 403 +1
Jones 375 -1
Kimball 347 +1
Daly 344 +1
Muñoz 337 -2
Aleshin 262 0
Bourdais 256 +1
Pigot 256 -1
Carpenter 216 0
Chaves 98 0
Montoya 96 0
Saavedra 92 +1
Gutiérrez 92 -1
Alonso 64 +2
Servià 61 -1

As you can see, there are some changes but none of them are massive. Newgarden would have still been champion and Pagenaud would have still finished second. The first change is Castroneves would have finished ahead of Dixon in third. Hunter-Reay would have finished ahead of Sato by 13 points instead of finishing behind him by 20 points thanks in part to Hunter-Reay scoring points from all but one stage in the final four races while Sato would not have scored a single stage point in the final four races.

The biggest mover would be James Hinchcliffe, who would have jumped three points and rounded out the top ten in the championship. The Canadian's big move would have been facilitated by 96 stage points he scored during the season while the drivers he jumped, Kanaan, Chilton and Andretti score 58 stage points, 51 stage points and 37 stage points respectively. The only other driver that would have more up more than one position was Fernando Alonso, who would have moved from 29th to 27th.

Outside of Hinchcliffe, everybody from 11th to 18th would be in a different position. J.R. Hildebrand would have jumped Ed Jones to 14th because Hildebrand scored stage points on ten occasions while Jones only did it eight times while Jones' best stage finish would have been third in stage two at St. Petersburg while Hildebrand's good days at Phoenix and Iowa as well as good stages at Watkins Glen would have inflated his scored. In fact, Jones scored 21 stage points all season while Hildebrand scored 43 stage points in the six stages from Phoenix, Iowa and Watkins Glen alone. The gap would have swung from Jones ahead by seven to Hildebrand up by 28 points.

Charlie Kimball would have picked up a position to 16th as would Conor Daly to 17th and Carlos Muñoz would have dropped two spots to 18th. Kimball would have scored 20 stage points while Daly would have had 39 stage points and Muñoz would have picked up only nine points from stages all season.

Despite not seismically shifting the championship picture, stage points would shift drivers by providing an increased reward when a driver is having a solid day. Take Hildebrand for example. He jumped a position in the championship basically because he had two solid races at Phoenix and Iowa. Not only did he finish on the podium in both races but also he was in the top five for the entirety of those races. The philosophical question is should running in the top five all race be a reason for a driver to be rewarded?

My thought process is if you are having a solid day then you will get a result that you deserve and it will show there. Stage points add more points to the equation but not necessarily for the better of the championship picture. It separates the herd even more. The top ten drivers in stage points scored would have ended up being the top ten in the championship, granted in a slightly different order. Stage points provide cover for results that were not achieved at the finish of a race. Castroneves scored the most stage points but even with that extra bit added to his total it couldn't completely cover the fact he had one victory and three podium finishes all season. It got him an extra position but that was it.

Stage points would have distracted us from what was a disappointing season for Hinchcliffe. He won at Long Beach but still finished behind three drivers who combined for one podium finish all season. Had there been stage points, those extra 96 points would have covered for six finishes of 20th or worse during the season. In effect it canceled out a few of Hinchcliffe's bad days and once again do we want that? Do we want drivers to be allowed a few mulligans during the season? I don't think so.

Stage points wouldn't have changed much but the good news is it doesn't appear IndyCar will be introducing the concept anytime soon.