The Sports Network for 105.3 The Fan

CHARLOTTE, NC (Sports Network) – NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer Brian France revealed a host of format changes, including a revised points system, in all three of its national touring series for the 2011 season.

France announced the modifications during his “state of the sport” address on Wednesday in Charlotte.

NASCAR is implementing a simpler points structure and is placing emphasis on race wins for all three series. The new system will award points in one-point increments.

Race winners will receive 43 points, plus three bonus points for the victory. One bonus point will be awarded to each driver who leads at least one lap, and an additional point will be added to the driver’s total if he or she leads the most laps. Therefore, a race winner could receive a total of 48 points for a race.

The second-place finisher will earn at least 42 points, while the third-place driver will get a minimum of 41 points, and so on. The last-place finisher (43rd) in a Sprint Cup and Nationwide race will receive only one point. The last-place driver in a 36-car field for a Camping World Truck Series event will pick up eight points.

“Many of our most loyal fans don’t fully understand the points system we have used to date,” France said. “So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow.”

Under the old system, 185 points were awarded to the race winner in each of the three series. Five bonus points were given to each driver who led at least one lap in an event, and an additional five points were credited to the driver who led the most laps.

Jimmie Johnson still would have claimed his record-extending fifth straight Cup championship had the revised points format been in place for the 2010 season.

NASCAR has used various point systems since its inception in 1949, but adopted its current structure in 1975.

The sanctioning body also made changes to its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format. The top-10 drivers in points after the 26th race of the season — the September 10 event at Richmond International Raceway — will qualify for the Chase.

The 11th and 12th positions in the Chase are “wild card” qualifiers that go to non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most wins, as long as they’re ranked in the top 20 in points. The top-10 Chase drivers will continue to be seeded based on wins during the regular 26-race season, with each win worth three bonus points. Wild card drivers will not receive bonus points for wins and, and they will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively.

Last year, Jamie McMurray won two races during the regular season — the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — but failed to qualify for the Chase, sitting 14th in points after the “cutoff” race at Richmond. In 2009, Kyle Busch collected four wins prior to the Chase, but missed the playoffs by a scant eight points. The new Chase format would have allowed McMurray and Busch to compete for the championship in NASCAR’s top series.

“I think the wild card feature is pretty significant in how we looked at that,” France said. “You can get hot late and get in. If you were running 15th or 16th [in points], you were just about out of the picture, if you were at Bristol [late August] or certainly going into Richmond [early September].”

Other changes that NASCAR announced include new procedures for qualifying.

For all three series, the qualifying order will be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds, starting with next month’s races at Daytona International Speedway. The top-35 in owner points will be grouped together, and the teams that will have to qualify on time will be placed together as well. NASCAR implemented this procedure for the truck series only half-way through the 2010 season.

If inclement weather cancels qualifying, the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds. However, the starting lineup will be set by points if practice is called off due to weather.

During last week’s Sprint Cup pre-season testing at Daytona, NASCAR president Mike Helton confirmed NASCAR’s new rule that prevents drivers from competing for a championship in more than one of the three series. France reaffirmed the rule during his speech.

Helton joined France in a question-and-answer session with the media following France’s address.

“We’re always going to look at stuff that we think in our opinion based on the input we get and the knowledge we’ve got and the experience we’ve got, we’re going to make adaptations to it so we make the sport better,” Helton said. “We don’t ignore a change or make a change just for the sake of ignoring it or making it. We do things when we do it for the betterment of our entire community.”

NASCAR is making such drastic changes to help improve track attendance and television ratings, which have both slumped in the past few years.

“Obviously, we want to be trending up, not down,” France added.