Watching Lewis Hamilton dominate Formula 1 again this season made me feel some empathy for Kevin Harvick and Chase Briscoe but good about Scott Dixon’s sixth title, because winning has certainly been compromised over the years.
We’ve seen double points, stage points, qualifying points, bonus points, half points and playoff points to try and spice things up but they all add up to some very confusing — and not necessarily always fair — ways to decide championships.
Since NASCAR introduced its playoff system in 2004, IndyCar experimented with double points along with points for qualifying while NHRA also went to special post-season eliminations and IMSA announced a few months ago it was adding qualifying points as well as bumping up its points payoffs.
I get that long seasons can be hard to stay interested in if somebody runs away and hides like Hamilton, or a couple guys like Harvick and Denny Hamlin seem unbeatable and Dixon looked like he wasn’t going to lose for a while, but winning and consistency should be the determining factor.
Only F1 has pretty much maintained the old school creed of basing everything on race day results — no gimmicks, no pseudo champions and little room for flukes, although the years where a driver was allowed to throw out his bad races did play into John Surtees’ title in 1964 and Ayrton Senna’s in 1988.
The best point system of all-time was F1’s mainstay for years, which rewarded performance and only six spots — 9-6-4-3-2-1. Today’s system, under which Hamilton recently clinched his seventh title, is better for the winner at 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 but still only goes 10 deep in the field.
And while there is a real good chance the driver with the most wins will come out the F1 champion, there have been 13 instances of that not happening — the most flagrant being 1958 when Stirling Moss had four wins to Mike Hawthorne’s one (that’s Moss in his Vanwall battling with Hawthorn’s Ferrari at Monza that year, above) and 1987 when Nigel Mansell was 6-3 better than eventual champ Nelson Piquet in the win column.
Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves earned the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech championship while winning the most races (four) while Eli Tomac’s seven victories carried him to the 2020 AMA SuperCross title and Steve Torrance was the winningest driver in Top Fuel and backed it up in the NHRA playoffs. Brady Bacon won six times in 28 starts to take the USAC sprint car championship and Chris Windom parlayed his four wins into the USAC midget title to join the Triple Crown Club.
But it’s not always been about outright wins in IndyCar and NASCAR.
Tony Bettenhausen (1958) and Tom Sneva (1978) came out #1 despite not winning a race those years while Jimmy Bryan captured six of 11 races in 1955 yet lost the championship to Indy 500 winner Bob Sweikert, and Johnny Thomson had four wins in ’58 but was foiled by four DNFs. A.J. Foyt had five victories to Mario Andretti’s one in 1965 but also seven DNFs to lose the crown to the mercurial rookie. They switched roles in 1967 when Andretti posted eight wins to Super Tex’s five but ran #2 in the points. And Danny Ongais scored five wins and led the most laps by a staggering number in 1978 but only finished seven of 17 races and wound up eighth in the standings.
NASCAR used the Latford System to figure points from 1975-2010, in which the winner earned 175 and the runner-up 170 regardless of the race distances or purses. But it didn’t always favor the most wins, as evidenced Bill Elliott’s 11 triumphs but no title in 1985 and Rusty Wallace’s 10 in 1993 without wearing #1 or Gordon’s 10-2 against Terry Labonte in 1996. Bobby Allison had the most wins in 1972 (10) but didn’t wear the crown and twice David Pearson had the more wins than the champion but only ran a limited schedule both years.
For all that, NASCAR has never had a champion that didn’t have at least one win. However, since “The Chase” was introduced in 2004 it’s greatly reduced the importance of the regular season. Think not? Without the playoffs, nine championships would have had different outcomes.
In 2004, Jeff Gordon is the regular season champ but Kurt Busch (fourth in points) takes the playoffs and it happens again in 2007, when Jimmie Johnson beats his teammate at Homestead. In 2008, Carl Edwards would have been the king but lost to Johnson in the playoffs and it happened to him again in 2011 when Stewart bested him in the finale. Harvick was #1 in 2010 before Johnson claimed the crown and took advantage of the format in 2014 after Gordon wound up first in the regular season. In 2015, Harvick was on top until The Chase began and Kyle Busch — who missed 11 races with an injury and would have been 22nd in the points — rallied to take his first championship. Harvick was also No. 1 going into 2016 before Johnson (seventh in the points) got hot and won it all.
And this season Harvick had nine wins and was the top seed in the playoffs before winding up fifth and watching Chase Elliott celebrate. Briscoe won nine times in the Xfinity series but only finished fourth in the playoffs.
NASCAR’s history would be greatly altered without The Chase as Gordon would own seven titles and Johnson only three, while Harvick and Edwards would each have two.
A lot of us hope were glad to see IndyCar dump Indy 500 qualifying points and we’re hoping double points gets scrapped again in the finale next year, because that’s such a bogus reward. The 2020 championship did come down to the two drivers with the most wins and best seasons and that just seems like the way it should always be.