CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR is replacing the complicated scoring system it has used since 1975 with a more straightforward format.
None of the changes for the 2011 season announced Wednesday by chairman Brian France at the NASCAR Hall of Fame came as a surprise, as officials had been briefing teams for almost two weeks.
A race winner will receive 43 points under the new system, and the points will decrease down to 1 for 43rd place.
"Now everyone will know, when a driver is down by 10 points, that he needs to pass 11 more cars to take the lead in the point standings," France said.
The new points system governs NASCAR's three top series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and trucks — as well as its regional series.
NASCAR also tweaked the eligibility requirements for its 12-driver Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship field.
The top 10 in points after the 26th race will make the Chase field. The final two spots will be "wild cards" going to the drivers with the most race victories who are not already eligible. The wild cards will only go to drivers ranked inside the top 20 in points.
If no driver outside the top 10 has any victories, the spots will go to the drivers ranked 11th and 12th in the standings.
Other changes included:
• Drivers in the three national series must choose the one in which they will compete for a drivers' title.
• The qualifying order will be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds.
• If inclement weather cancels qualifying, the starting lineup will be set by practice speeds. If weather cancels practice, the lineup will be set by points.
Adding the wild card was designed to reward winning, which driver Tony Stewart applauded: "I think that's a twist that really makes sense."
But what didn't make sense to many teams and fans was why NASCAR believed the points system was its biggest problem. NASCAR has suffered steady declines in both attendance and television ratings.
"I absolutely think the races ought to be shorter, and I think the season ought to be shorter," said Rick Hendrick, NASCAR's winningest team owner. " … If we had three more months off, I think the fans would be more eager to get back and watch it."
David Hill, chairman of Fox Sports, called on NASCAR to shorten races so they fit into a three-hour broadcast window.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, called the refusal to shorten races, "this huge pink elephant nobody wants to talk about."
He speculated that handshake deals made long ago had given many tracks lifetime agreements to host two 500-mile races a year. And monetary issues, Earnhardt said, make it impossible to shorten the season.
"I think in my lifetime we'll see shorter races across the board at 85 percent of the events," he said, "but never a shorter season."
France bristled at the notion that there are larger issues.
"We're 63 years old," he said. "Every sport is going to have periods where, for lots of reasons, you're in a peak or a valley."