Monday, June 20, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: In the Olden Days

Max Verstappen held off Carlos Sainz, Jr. to win the Canadian Grand Prix. At least Canada got a point from its two drivers at the home race. Hélio Castroneves could be set for an entry into a NASCAR Cup race at Daytona. Supercars disqualified Chaz Mostert from practice, and then from race one, but it all turned out all right. GT World Challenge America continues to be rather boring. GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup continues to be slightly less boring. The French had a good day in Germany. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

In the Olden Days
I don't like when we do not have a historical perspective. It happens every year with the Indianapolis 500, especially since it now pays double points. Double points is labeled as a "gimmick." It is worth more than any other race. It is viewed as improper, and no race should be weighed greater than another race, as it tilts the championship. 

Every year after Indianapolis we normally see the race winner jump up a few positions in the championship. Marcus Ericsson went from seventh to first this year based on one result because there were more points on the table. 

Many get hung up on the benefit for winning the race, but it seems many have a narrow view of the past and ignore that for the longest time, Indianapolis always was worth more points than pretty much every other race. 

When the American Automobile Association and USAC sanctioned the highest level of IndyCar, races had different points totals based on the mileage. The winner received two points for every mile in the scheduled distance. Win the Indianapolis 500 and a driver was awarded 1,000 points. Win a 100-mile race, a driver earned 200 points. Second place received 80% of the winner's total. It decreased by ten percent all the way down to 30% of the winner's total for seventh before decreases in 5% increments from eighth to 12th. 

This did cause some peculiar championship results. In many seasons, an Indianapolis 500 victory was all you needed to be champion when combined with other respectable results, as the rest of the season was only 100-mile races. 

In 1955, Jimmy Bryan won six of 11 races, but he was second in the championship on 1,480 points. Bill Sweikert won the Indianapolis 500 and the Syracuse 100 in September. He had 2,290 points, 1,000 of which were for winning one race. 

Bryan had almost no chance of beating Sweikert, and Sweikert mathematically clinched the championship after five races. 

Up until the CART era, this points system remained in place. It wasn't a gimmick; it was how it was. It might seem unfair that longer races were worth more points, but it was how the championship was awarded, and there is some logic behind it. It is arguably harder to win a 500-mile race versus a 100-mile race. Longer races means more wear on the car and driver. That does seem like it should be worth something.

IndyCar did have multiple 500-mile races in many seasons during the 1970s, and when the schedule increased to have 16 races or more, full season success could cancel out just winning Indianapolis or any of the longer races. The best example is the 1978 season. Al Unser completed the Triple Crown, winning the three 500-mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario. That was 3,000 points to his name in only three of 18 races. Tom Sneva ended up winning the championship despite not winning a single race. Figure that one out? Six runner-up finishes and 12 top five finishes helped Sneva while Unser missed two races and failed to scored points in five other races. 

Even when CART first started, it weighed races based on mileage. It used the USAC system at first. For the 1981 and 1982 seasons, CART decreased the points totals with 20 points for a victory in a 100-mile race, 40 points to win a 200-miler, 60 in a 300-miler, 80 in a 400-miler and 100 points to win a 500-miler. It wasn't until the 1983 season where every race paid the same number of points. 

The USAC system was the system. It wasn't seen as a gimmick. It might have caused an imbalance in importance of races, hurting some while propping up others, but that was the norm. At that time, making every race equal was the gimmick. Giving out a point for fastest qualifier and most laps led were gimmicks.  

After decades of saying Indianapolis was the most important race in the season and awarding it as such, it must have been weird for Indianapolis to become level with a 150-mile race at Phoenix, or a 200-mile race at Mid-Ohio. 

Perspective matters. It is perfectly fine to believe every race should pay the same amount of points. There is a fairness in that and helps a championship. To act like what happens today is some grave sporting injustice ignores decades of history of how races were scored and perceived. 

With that mindset, what would this IndyCar season look like through eight races if the USAC points system was used today? 

Keep in mind, IndyCar races are much different distances than back then. The Indianapolis 500 is still the same, but there weren't any street courses. Every race was scheduled to round number mileage or as close to it as possible. There weren't 167.28-mile races or 220.77-mile races. Even 180-mile races were nonexistent. 

Here is what I have done: I have done two points per mile of the scheduled distance for all the winners, expect for Texas, which was 357.12 miles, but I rounded it to 700 points for the winner, Long Beach and Belle Isle were both treated as 150-mile races and paid 300 points to the winner as those races were 167.28 miles and 164.5 miles respectively, and Barber paid 400 miles to the winner, as it was a 207-mile race and rounded down.

St. Petersburg awarded double from 180 miles and Road America paid double from 220 miles. The decreasing points proportions from second down to 12th remained the same. Second received 80% of the winner's total and so on all the way down to 12th receiving 5%. 

What would the standings look like and how would that compare to the actual standings?

1. Marcus Ericsson - 2,264 points (-)
2. Will Power - 1,672 points (-)
3. Josef Newgarden - 1,620 points (-)
4. Patricio O'Ward - 1,518 points (-)
5. Álex Palou - 1,348 points (-)
6. Alexander Rossi - 1,243 points (+1)
7. Scott McLaughlin - 1,212 points (+2)
8. Scott Dixon - 1,118 points (-2)
9. Felix Rosenqvist - 1,011 points (-1)
10. Colton Herta - 1,006 points (+1)
11. Simon Pagenaud - 867 points (-1)
12. Romain Grosjean - 804 points (-)
13. Tony Kanaan - 700 points (+12)
14. Conor Daly - 630 points (-1)
15. Rinus VeeKay - 529 points (-1)
16. Graham Rahal - 408 points (-1)
17. Hélio Castroneves - 360 points (-)
18. Santino Ferrucci - 290 points (+8)
19. Jimmie Johnson - 280 points (+5)
20. Christian Lundgaard - 182 points (-4)
21. Takuma Sato - 174 points (-3)
22. Callum Ilott - 144 points (-)
23. David Malukas - 120 points (-4)
24. Juan Pablo Montoya - 100 points (+7)
25. J.R. Hildebrand - 50 points (+3)
26. Kyle Kirkwood - 45 points (-5)

Under the USAC system, where all the points totals are based on the scheduled race distance, the top five in the championship would be the exact same. And frankly, outside of Tony Kanaan's third-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and Santino Ferrucci's two respectable runs in the two oval races, the championship is practically identical to what we have had this season. 

Are double points a gimmick or just a different way to award race results? Is the USAC system any less valid than the current system? 

It would matter over the remaining races. There is a big difference in the remaining races and the points left on the table. Based on scheduled race distances (and I will treat both Iowa races as 250-mile events, round Nashville up to 175 miles, and round Portland and Laguna Seca down to 200 miles), the maximum points remaining is 3,830. Still more than enough for anyone to be champion, but proportionally, Ericsson's lead is about 16% bigger under the USAC system than the current system. 

It is important to keep the past in mind. It is too easy to blast doing something different as a gimmick or unwarranted. A balanced championship with all the races paying the same number of points is a fair way to decide a champion, but a different system is not any less valid especially if it ends up producing practically the same result. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Max Verstappen, but did you know...

Fabio Quartararo won MotoGP's German Grand Prix, his third victory of the season. Augusto Fernández won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season. Izan Guevara won the Moto3 race, his second consecutive victory and third of the season.

René Rast and Ricardo Feller split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Imola. 

Anton de Pasquale, Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert split the Supercars races from Darwin.

Sacha Fenestraz won the Super Formula race from Sportsland SUGO, his first career victory in the series.

Hélio Castroneves won the SRX race from Five Flags Speedway, his first career victory in the series.

The #32 Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts and the #89 AKKodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy split the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup race from Zandvoort.

The #1 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli and Michele Beretta swept the GT World Challenge America races from Virginia International Raceway, 11 consecutive victories for K-PAX Racing in GTWCA competition. The #18 RS1 Porsche of Eric Filgueiras and Stevan McAleer and the #34 Conquest Racing/JMF Motorsports Mercedes-AMG of Gavin Sanders and Michai Stephens split the GT4 America races. George Kurtz swept the GT America races.

Todd Gilliland won the NASCAR Truck race from Knoxville.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Dutch TT.
A six-hour race around Watkins Glen for IMSA. 
NASCAR begins summer at Nashville Superspeedway.
The Safari Rally takes place.
World Touring Car Cup will run at Aragón.