AUTO RACING NASCAR puts emphasis on wins

There will also be a sort of playoff system in the last 10 races of the year.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR officially will make its championship points system a lot more interesting.
The change will include a re-emphasis on winning races -- which once was the whole idea but for decades has been buried under too much reward for consistency among also-rans.
And there'll be a sort of playoff system in the last 10 races -- which, officials admit, is a ploy to compete in the autumn free-for-alls for TV ratings with the baseball playoffs, NFL and NBA.
These are the key themes of a restructuring that will take effect with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 15. Details were to be outlined today by NASCAR chairman Brian France and president Mike Helton.
New point differentials
NASCAR closely has guarded the fine print, such as the precise new point differentials between first and second place in races. But the spread will be wider, rewarding winning more than the current five-point differential, 180-175.
And the overall revamp is significant enough that officials guarantee that the chase for this year's inaugural Nextel Cup will be more interesting than the past 11 Winston Cups.
"Under this system, we won't know who's the champion until the last race of the season," vice president Jim Hunter promised Monday.
Is that a mathematical certainty?
"Yes," Hunter said, adding that "there'll be at least two or three drivers, maybe five or six, in contention" down to the wire.
A battle to the finish
That's drastic change, considering that five of the past six Winston Cups were clinched early. There haven't been three drivers in serious contention at the wire since 1992, with Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison. Kulwicki won that year.
Rumors and speculation have flowed throughout the off-season, after Hunter acknowledged last fall that changes were being considered.
As bits and pieces have leaked, traditionalist fans have reacted angrily to the notion of a playoff system in the final 10 of the 36 races.
Fan grousing should subside with a more thorough understanding of the new system.
"Hopefully, [today will] provide all the details, so that people will at least know what they're bashing," Hunter said.
Only one win for champion
Matt Kenseth won the 2003 championship with only one victory. Ryan Newman won eight times but finished sixth in the standings.
"This sport is about leading and winning," said Humpy Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway. "There has to be something for a guy like Newman, who drove the wheels off his car but wrecked a few times."
"And we need more emphasis on the end of the season. We are the only sport that slows down as the season progresses. We're in the entertainment business. When we stop thinking that way, we're doomed."