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Drivers set to test fixed track, ponder points system

Jamie McMurray, who won at Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte last season, favors NASCAR’s proposal for a new points system.  (Associated Press)
Jamie McMurray, who won at Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte last season, favors NASCAR’s proposal for a new points system. (Associated Press)

ATLANTA – Jamie McMurray likes the idea of switching to a new points system to determine the NASCAR champion.

Specifically, one he actually understands.

“The points system we have right now is really confusing,” McMurray said Wednesday during a promotional stop in downtown Atlanta, where he posed with the 2011 version of the trophy he won at last year’s Daytona 500. “And not just for the average fan who watches the race. Everyone in our sport is confused by the way our points system is right now.”

NASCAR has floated the idea of dumping the complicated system it has used since 1975 – which, according to legend, was drawn out on a napkin over drinks in a Daytona bar – in favor of a simpler method that awards points based directly on the finishing position in the 43-car field.

That would mean 43 points for first, down to a single point for last. The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship would be determined by the top 10 drivers in the points, plus wild-card spots for the next two with the most wins.

That certainly would have benefited McMurray last season, when he won at three of the most famous tracks on the circuit – Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte – but missed the Chase because he was outside of the top 12 in overall points.

Not that he would’ve traded the wins he had for a shot at the overall title.

“Just to make the Chase is not that big a deal for me,” McMurray said. “You couldn’t tell me who finished 12th in the points last year. You have no clue. Neither does anyone else. But they know who won the Daytona 500.”

A revised points method is one of the hot-button issues heading into a season that ended just two months ago with Jimmie Johnson winning his record fifth straight title and cranks up again today with an open test at Daytona International Speedway, site of next month’s season opener.

The Super Bowl of stock car racing is coming off an embarrassing race last year, won by McMurray in a thrilling finish but only after two long delays caused by potholes.

Daytona International Speedway spent $20 million to totally repave the track, a five-month job that was completed in time for a December tire test. Some 40 teams are expected for the first big test, this three-day session.

Speedway president Joie Chitwood, who accompanied McMurray to Atlanta, said the track is working hard to regain the trust of the fans after the embarrassment of 2010.

“We didn’t give ’em the event they expected,” Chitwood said. “This year, we hope we spent the right money to fix the problem and we have a great event.”

McMurray expects the repaved track to create a more exciting race Feb. 20, even though he was initially against the idea of a new surface.

“Daytona has always been that place that you had to make the car handle,” he said. “The guys who were able to do that really prided themselves on making their car drive good.”

After testing in December, McMurray had a change of heart.

“It’s remarkable the amount of grip the track has and the packs we’re able to run in,” he said. “We’re really able to run three-wide for the entire fuel run, which is something we’ve never had at Daytona, at least not since I’ve been racing.”

Chitwood is devoting his attention to winning back fans who may have been turned off by last year’s debacle or simply cut back in the struggling economy.

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