What's the point(s)? Just another IRL cliffhanger

October, 23, 2009

By luck or design, the Indy Racing League's scoring system has created remarkably close championship battles, and for the fourth year in a row, the IndyCar Series title was not settled until the final lap of the season. Dario Franchitti edged his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, with Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe right in the mix as well.

At about this time a year ago, I wrote a column in which I used point-scoring systems from several other forms of motorsport to determine whether the results of the IndyCar Series championship hypothetically would have changed. I calculated that the IndyCar Series would have had a different champion in eight of the 15 scenarios I created, with the biggest shakeup coming to the 2006 standings, where Sam Hornish Jr. tied Dan Wheldon on points but won on a tiebreaker using the IRL points distribution.

Four drivers went into the final championship round that year with a shot at the title, and had either the CART or current Formula 1 scoring system been in use, Helio Castroneves would have won the title rather than finishing third. Castroneves would have won another crown in 2008 if either CART or Champ Car World Series points had been awarded.

Castroneves was out of championship contention this year, but once again, an alternate scoring system would have crowned a different champion. Let's crunch the numbers …

Formula One

The classic F1 points distribution rewarded excellence, and until 2002, only the top 6 finishers in a Grand Prix were awarded points. Expanding the points to the top 8 did little to slow down the Michael Schumacher express, but it did create more interesting F1 title races about half the time since then.

Prior to establishing himself as an IndyCar Series star, Briscoe had F1 aspirations, and the Australian would today find himself as the 2009 IndyCar champion if points were awarded F1 style. Despite scoring fewer race wins than either of the Target/Ganassi drivers, Briscoe's eight second-place finishes would have benefited him handsomely this year and he would have emerged as champion had the classic or current F1 system been in use. That's despite the fact that he suffered four finishes outside the top 12, compared to three for Dixon and just two for Franchitti.

It was feast or famine for Briscoe, who never finished lower than fourth except in his four bad events. He would have scored 81 points using the old F1 system, compared to 76 for Franchitti and 73 for Dixon. Using the current F1 points, Briscoe would have racked up 104 markers, with Franchitti second on 101 and Dixon third with 96.


CART paid out points to the top 12 finishers, and also awarded single bonus points for pole position and leading the most laps.

Franchitti would have triumphed as this year's IndyCar Series champion using the CART system, with 226 points, but Briscoe would have beaten Dixon into second place with 221 points to the New Zealander's tally of 215.

With four poles and five races in which he led the most laps, Briscoe was the bonus point leader (Dixon had one pole and led the most laps six times, while Franchitti started the most races from the pole with five and topped the laps led chart only three times), but it wasn't enough for him to overcome the extra points Franchitti gained by winning five races to Briscoe's three.

Champ Car

Champ Car spread the points down to 20th place, and was also more generous with the bonus points, awarding them for pole position, laps led, most positions gained and fastest race lap.

Briscoe yet again dominated the bonus points, racking up 22 to Dixon's 18 and Franchitti's 17, but once more it was not enough to deliver him a championship. In fact, using the Champ Car system, he remained third in the final reckoning, scoring 396 points compared to 399 for Dixon and 409 for series champion Franchitti.


Dixon matched Briscoe with 90 NASCAR-style bonus points, which are dispensed in five-point increments for any driver who leads a lap and to the driver who leads the most laps in a race. Franchitti racked up 70 NASCAR bonus points but still came out on top of the mythical championship standings, with 2,818 points, plus-5 on Dixon and plus-36 on Briscoe.

Ultimately, the fact that Briscoe scored more poor finishes than the Target Ganassi drivers proved to be his undoing. Dixon and Franchitti salvaged bad days by finishing anywhere from third to seventh, and Franchitti was particularly effective in terms of damage control.

In fact, had Dario not suffered a brake failure leading to a crash at Kansas Speedway (where he probably would have finished second to Dixon) and an off-course excursion at Watkins Glen while avoiding another driver's accident, he would have put together an almost perfect season and won the championship by a landslide.

No matter what scoring system was in use.



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