Drivers comment on new format

NASCAR DRIVERS PRAISE NEW NASCAR DODGE WEEKLY SERIES FORMAT Former Weekly Series champions Bowyer, Labonte, Christopher and Wertz speak out on changes DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 18, 2005) -- NASCAR has announced a new format for the NASCAR...

NASCAR DRIVERS PRAISE NEW NASCAR DODGE WEEKLY SERIES FORMAT

Former Weekly Series champions Bowyer, Labonte, Christopher and Wertz speak out on changes

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 18, 2005) -- NASCAR has announced a new format for the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, which will now feature a traditional championship point system to determine four divisional champions and the overall national champion. The points format, in which drivers will be awarded 50 points for a win, 48 points for second place, 46 for third place and so on, replaces the 15-year-old Competition Performance Index (CPI), which ranked drivers and determined the championships via a statistical index.

Another significant change to the format is that a driver's best 16 finishes will be counted towards the divisional and national championships. Previously, drivers needed a minimum of 18 starts to be eligible for the championship, and all of their results were counted. Drivers will also receive bonus points for competing at tracks with a greater number of cars in the field, rewarding those drivers who race at NASCAR's most competitive weekly short tracks.

Prior to the Hershey's Take 5 "300" NASCAR Busch Series race at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR Busch Series drivers Clint Bowyer (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) and Justin Labonte (No. 44 Coast Guard Chevrolet), both graduates of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, shared their views on the new system.

"The Weekly Series is a great stepping stone for any racer with aspirations to go on [to NASCAR's national series]," said Bowyer, a former Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, Kan.) track champion and 2002 NASCAR Midwest Regional champion. "I felt like I was ready when I moved up [to the NASCAR Busch Series]. And I was prepared when I got there.

"I think the new system is going to be good. I think a lot more will become of it, and it's going to be a lot harder, that's for sure."

Labonte, son of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series veteran Terry Labonte (No. 44 Kellogg's Corn Flakes Chevrolet), raced a limited NASCAR Busch Series schedule in 1999-2000 but never cracked the top five in 22 starts during that period. He gave his career a fresh start by returning to his racing roots in 2003.

"If it wasn't for short track racing, I definitely wouldn't be here," said Labonte, who won the Caraway Speedway Late Model track championship in 2003. "I went back to Caraway and started all over again. I learned a lot and it helped attract the Coast Guard to sponsor me, even today. They were really paying attention in how I was running at the local level, and it helped a lot."

Since returning to the NASCAR Busch Series, Labonte recorded his first victory at Chicagoland Speedway and finished a career-high 35th in the point standings last season.

"I was never really smart enough to figure out the CPI thing," Labonte quipped. "So, it's kind of cool to see that they're changing it. It looks like a really neat deal with all of the different divisions."

Labonte and Bowyer's sentiments were echoed by two of the top drivers in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series today. Mark Wertz, of Virginia Beach, Va., is a two-time NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series regional champion from Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.

Ted Christopher, of Plainville, Conn., was the 2001 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national champion and remains a formidable competitor at NASCAR tracks throughout the Northeast. Wertz and Christopher joined Bowyer and Labonte on stage at the Daytona International Speedway media center, to discuss NASCAR's new format for the Weekly Series.

"In 2003, when we realized we had a shot at winning the region, I really made myself a math professor and figured out the CPI Index," said Wertz. "Last year, I had it down to a tee. We had it down pretty good but it was very intense. This year's new formula looks a whole lot easier and it'll be easier to keep track of."

Christopher, who also competes on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, said the old system was tough to figure out, even for a championship-winning driver.

"I can remember when we won the national championship, we weren't even on the radar screen because we didn't have the track points lead," said Christopher. "Back then, you could have won tons of races, but if you weren't leading the track points you couldn't lead the region. We ended up getting into the lead right at the end. I never paid attention to it because my job was to win races."

Wertz and Christopher applauded NASCAR for the changes, citing the flexibility to race at more than one track, and the bonus points applied to the most competitive tracks.

"The thing that's really neat is, maybe I can shoot for a Friday night race, or if we rain out on Saturday we can go and race somewhere on Sunday," said Wertz. "We can jump in another car and go do that. We'll definitely look at that. As far as doing anything different, the only thing you've got to do is drive your car to win. That's how we're going to approach this season.

"You don't want to go to a track with just 10 cars," said Wertz. "You're going to hunt for the tracks with the biggest car counts. This whole program will draw more attention because people will start noticing the drivers who are looking for competition.

"If you're going to beat that competition, you'll get more credit instead of just staying at your home track and beating the same cars every week," said Wertz. "Now that there are other tracks in our division where I can race and still get points, it'll be nice to go there and race instead of being relegated to one track."

NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter said the new format will encourage close racing. "We designed this system to reward the drivers who compete at tracks where the competition is toughest, and not where it's weakest," said Hunter.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Terry Labonte , Justin Labonte , Ted Christopher , Jim Hunter