Most sports are all or nothing endeavors. If you've played sports, you've probably heard the expression "There's no points for second place." That saying doesn't hold true in NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series, where every car driver who starts a race is guaranteed at least 34 points for finishing last. In NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), points are compiled over a 36-race season, beginning in February and ending in November. The driver with the most points at the end of the season is declared the Nextel Cup champion.

Nextel Cup Points
Finish Points Finish Points
1 180 23 94
2 170 24 91
3 165 25 88
4 160 26 85
5 155 27 82
6 150 28 79
7 146 29 76
8 142 30 73
9 138 31 70
10 134 32 67
11 130 33 64
12 127 34 61
13 124 35 58
14 121 36 55
15 118 37 52
16 115 38 49
17 112 39 46
18 109 40 43
19 106 41 40
20 103 42 37
21 100 43 34
22 97 -- --

There are two basic ways to score points in a NASCAR Nextel Cup race:

  • Finishing position
  • Bonus points

The previous point system, the Winston Cup, was in use from 1975 until the current system, the Nextel Cup, was announced in January 2004. Under the current system, the winner receives 180 points. The runner-up receives 170 points and the next four finishers are separated by five points each. Then, the seventh through tenth place finishers are separated by four points and everyone else is separated by three points thereafter. The table on the right shows how many points each finishing position is worth.

Drivers also receive five bonus points if they lead at least one lap during the race. Also, the driver that leads the most laps of a race receives another five points. Previously, under the Winston Cup system, a driver finishing in second place could receive just as many points as the winner. For instance, a race winner would receive 175 points plus five points for leading a lap, which equals 180 points. The second place driver would receive 170 points, plus five for leading a lap and another five points if he led the most laps, which equals 180 points. Under the new Nextel Cup system, with the race winner now earning 180 points, this would not be possible.

The new Nextel Cup takes on what many consider a "playoff" scoring format. NASCAR officials prefer to call it a showdown. According to the NASCAR Web site, the new scoring system sets up "a showdown for the Nextel Cup championship over the season's last 10 races." The final 10 races are being referred to as the "Chase for the Championship." Joining the top 10 drivers in the Chase, are any drivers who end up within 400 points of the leading scorer.

The chase participants' point totals will be adjusted for this phase of the Nextel Cup. At the start of the 10-race showdown, the first-place driver has 5,050 points and each driver after that sees an incremental drop of five points. So, the second-place driver has 5,045, the third-place driver has 5,040 and so on.

In response to the worry of this being too much like a playoff situation, NASCAR president Mike Helton said, "This is not a playoff, every one of our events will continue to be a Super Bowl and all 43 drivers will be trying to win every race."

If you're wondering about the payoff rather than the playoff, the NASCAR Web site reports, "The champion will be guaranteed a minimum of $5 million, while each of the other drivers who finish in the top 10 will earn $1 million. The 11th-place finisher will get a $250,000 bonus."

At the end of the season, if two drivers have the same number of points, the driver who has won the most races that season wins the tiebreaker. If the drivers are still tied, they are separated by second-place, third-place, fourth-place finishers, etc. until the tie is broken.