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France: New system 'has been wonderful'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France will keep the new points system in place for next year, satisfied that the closest championship race in history is proof that the 10-race playoff structure works better than expected.

Five drivers head into Sunday's finale at Homestead-Miami
Speedway separated by 82 points, creating a one-race shootout to
crown the Nextel Cup champion.

"The new points system has been wonderful, it's created
interest and a scenario that was unthinkable under the old
system," France told The Associated Press. "Obviously, we were
hoping to create drama all the way down to the last lap of the last
race. That was our preference under the old system, and it just
wasn't happening.

"So we like things the way they are. We always said we wanted to let the full year play out, but the balance we have now, we're real happy with. We may end up making some slight adjustments next season, but nothing very noticeable."

That's because the last time a points race was this close
heading into the final event was 1992, when six drivers were
separated by 113 points. Davey Allison went into the finale with a
30-point lead over Alan Kulwicki, and Kulwicki passed him and won
the title in the last race.

Since then, the championship races have been snoozers.

Matt Kenseth clinched his title the week before the finale last
season, and had more or less locked it up weeks before then.
Although other drivers were mathematically eligible to catch him,
it would have taken a total collapse or an injury for Kenseth to
lose the title.

So France entered his first season as NASCAR chairman with a radical new 10-race playoff system, in which the top 10 drivers at
the end of 26 events had their point totals reset and were the only
ones eligible for the championship.

The system has had opponents since it was announced, and critics are still finding faults. The biggest complaint was the theory that one bad finish would ruin a driver's title hopes.

France said Jimmie Johnson has proved that wrong.

After dropping to ninth in the standings with six races left,
Johnson has used four victories to pull into second place, 18
points behind leader Kurt Busch.

"Everybody thought Jimmie Johnson was out, he had three bad races and everybody said you couldn't have one," France said.
"Well, nobody thought about the way to climb back into races. That
is to win. That is exactly what we wanted."

So forget about a points system within a points system, which is what driver Jeremy Mayfield has lobbied for.

His title hopes were crushed in the first playoff race when he
was caught in an accident Robby Gordon intentionally caused.
Because all 10 Chase drivers are scored on the same points system
as everyone else, he got points for finishing 35th in that event.

He argued he should have gotten points for finishing ninth out of the 10 Chase drivers.

France listened to the idea, but said it isn't under
consideration.

"We're heading away from that -- not that down the road it won't have more appeal, but right now, Jimmie is showing you can have a bad race," he said. "We like the fact that we have put an
emphasis on coming back and making up ground ... we like the
dynamics of that."

He said he is also not going to award extra points to a race
winner.

Under the current scoring system: A win earns 180 points, a
last-place finish gets 34 points. Five-point bonuses are given to
any driver who leads a lap, and an additional five-point bonus is
awarded for leading the most laps in a race.

France is particularly pleased with what the Chase has done for television ratings. Part of the reason he wanted the new system was to create drama that could match up with the NFL and baseball
playoffs.

Although NBC's ratings didn't move at first -- the first race was down 8 percent from last year, and the third race was down 2
percent -- it's been a steady climb since. The race in Atlanta three
weeks ago was up 21 percent from last year, and NASCAR expects the Miami finale to post similar numbers now that there is a
five-driver battle.

It couldn't come at a better time for France, who is just
starting to renegotiated NASCAR's television package. He said he
was impressed with the $8 billion extension the NFL worked out last
week with CBS and Fox,

NASCAR has a $2.8 billion deal with NBC and Fox that they signed in 2001 and expires at the end of the 2006 season.