The Final Word – Did Matt Kenseth’s 2003 title run ruin NASCAR?

Matt Kenseth ruined NASCAR. He did not mean to do it, and we did not know at the time that he did, but it would seem his single win 2003 championship changed everything. Maybe if his personality was more like a Busch, a Harvick, or a Stewart, who would answer such criticism with a simple “kiss my ass” it might have been different. It was also the season Ryan Newman won eight races, but was a distant sixth in the standings.

Of course, the Chase was supposed to be the remedy. That was before we discovered that NASCAR had no interest in determining who was the best over the course of the season, but rather sought a gimmick to keep people watching to the end. A final four with winner take all, with wins being the determining factor, is now supposed to be the answer. This ignores the fact that a driver can still go winless, make the final four, and finish third at Homestead and win it all. So, the season crown could wind up being meaningless, no matter what legend might come out and parrot the company line.

Maybe a three race playoff, featuring the three track configurations (short, long, and road) and only those 16 drivers (or whatever cut off line they determine) taking part might be a more legitimate solution. Then again, one driver could win the first two and then we are back to a meaningless season finale.

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Still, 2003’s result started the changes. What if we had a system at that time which rewarded wins, Top Fives, and Top Tens more? Might that have changed things? The new points system was a good start, so rather than reinvent the wheel let us start with that. I thought giving up 70 or 75 points for a win, extra for Top Fives and Top Tens might do the trick. I mean, close to 40 points between first and 11th should have altered the landscape somewhat, at least enough to close the gap back in 2003.

Actually, it would not. Kenseth, who lost an engine and was dead last at Homestead that year, would have finished well ahead of Jimmie Johnson and Newman. Kenseth was just too consistent, consistently high that is, to be caught as this system would have rewarded the eventual champion for his 25 Top Tens that year. So, what if we only gave the steroid treatment for wins, and leave everything else the same?

Just how many points should a win be worth? 65…70…75…more? In doing so, might we also be able to see at least one contender within 30 or so points from the leader going into the final race of the season? Hey, if it ticks all the boxes, including the “game seven” moment desired by Mr. France, so much the better, but with no gimmicks and no Chase.

Here are what the standings would have looked like going into Homestead for the season finale based on those numbers for 2003, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Do any of them tickle your own fancy? Do any of them identify a champion you would recognize as the very best on that particular season?

2003 Wins 65 pts 70 pts 75 pts
Newman 8 1263 1303 1343
Kenseth 1 1252 1257 1262
Johnson 3 1214 1229 1244

Awarding the winner a maximum 65 points, 2003 would have seen Ryan Newman entering Homestead with an 11 point lead over Matt Kenseth. Increase the winner’s total to 70, and Newman’s eight win season would have jumped him 46 points ahead. At 75, he would have had it already won, going in 81 points on top.

2011 Wins 65 pts 70 pts 75 pts
Edwards 1 1251 1256 1261
Harvick 4 1231 1251 1271
Stewart 4 1212 1232 1252

In 2011, Tony Stewart beat Carl Edwards in the Chase by win totals (5-to-1). Had they awarded up to 65 points for a win, Edwards would have entered Homestead 20 points up on Kevin Harvick, with Stewart 39 behind. At 70, the gap narrows to just 5 points, with Smoke 24 in arrears, while at 75, Harvick is up by ten and Stewart within 19 of the leader. Stewart’s Homestead win could have given him the title over Edwards by 1, 6, or 11 points.

2012 Wins 65 pts 70 pts 75 pts
Keselowski 5 1315 1340 1365
Johnson 5 1307 1332 1357

2012 was claimed by Brad Keselowski via the Chase, but as both he and Johnson were tied in wins, Keselowski would have entered Homestead up by eight points regardless.

2013 Wins 65 pts 70 pts 75 pts
Johnson 6 1315 1345 1375
Kenseth 7 1267 1302 1337

That brings us to last season when Johnson went into Homestead with the advantage but with Kenseth having one more win to his credit. Award up to 65 points per win, and Johnson leads by 48 points. By 70, and the lead is cut to 43. Award the victor up to 75 points, and we have a 38 point gap.

If wins mean almost everything, then as long as the challenger has a hope for the title with a win at Homestead, we should be satisfied. By awarding the winner 69 or 70 points for victory, the gap between first and second would be between 25 and 28 points, depending on race bonuses. In 2003, Kenseth would still have claimed the crown with a victory as long as Newman finished no better than 22nd. In 2011, Stewart would have won the title with a win, no matter what Edwards did that day. The same goes for Johnson in 2012 against Keselowski. Last season, a Kenseth win and a Johnson finish of no better than 18th would have given Matt his second championship.

No gimmicks. No Chase. Sometimes game seven moments are not to be. Win 27 races, like Richard Petty did in 1967, and you just hand the sceptre to the King. No other result would have been acceptable.

What do you think?

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  1. This whole playoff in Nascar is a dumb concept because you race against everyone going for the Championship every week. But if we are stuck with the stupidity and they want to make wins count so much make it so you have to win to make the Chase and if you don’t win a race you don’t make it in at least this would give everyone more incentive to win multiple races to keep more drivers out of the Chase and increase your odd of winning it.

  2. The one question I keep having with this whole game 7 moments idea is how many truly epic, watch replays over and over again, always brought up in conversation, game 7 moments have there actually been in the major sports?
    France is trying to create something that even the sports he is trying to emulate have allowed to not happen frequently thus being special all to themselves versus just being one of many scenarios. 1992 championship was special because it was allowed to happen naturally within a framework of fewer rules and less show even 2004 and 2011 with the Chase manipulating the results to an extent played out fairly naturally.
    How long has it been since the NFL last changed the basics of their playoff? 1990?, before last season when did MLB change the playoff?, NBA yes added games but has left the format alone for the most part for several years. NASCAR (France) has changed it 4 times in 10 years. This is not good for the sport. Dumbest change and coinciding reason was going from 10 to 12 drivers eligible only because a couple of the golden boys did not make it. Well better luck next year just do better. Note this also coincided with the decline in attendance and viewership. Top 35 rule also was a major blunder. The provisional system needed a change not the whole thing.
    I do like the qualifying setup for this year though.


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