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CATEGORIES (articles) > American Motorsport > Motorsport Events For Petrolheads > NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Race Series


The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is NASCAR's top racing series.


Grand National

From 1950 through 1971, the top tier NASCAR series was called the Grand National, not to be confused with the later Busch Grand National Series (now simply the Busch Series), the second tier division of NASCAR.

Winston Cup

NASCAR Winston Cup logo

From 1972 through 2003, NASCAR's premier series was called the Winston Cup Series. It was sponsored by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (RJR) as an advertising mechanism to bring attention to its Winston brand of cigarettes. In its later years, RJR's sponsorship became more controversial in the wake of U.S. legislation that sharply restricted avenues for tobacco advertising.


In 2003, RJR dropped its sponsorship of the top series, and NASCAR obtained a sponsorship from NEXTEL, a telecommunications company. The change of sponsorship, essentially caused the Winston Cup to become obsolete and merely a part of NASCAR history. Starting in 2004, the premier series was known as the NEXTEL Cup.

The merger between Sprint and NEXTEL will potentially result in the series being renamed Sprint Cup in 2007, although it is still being discussed and debated by all involved parties. (The name Sprint Cup might be confusing because there already is a class of racecars called sprint cars, which are quite different from stock cars.)

Chase for the Championship

Short track racing, the grassroots of NASCAR, began experimenting with ideas to help the entry-level racer. In 2001, the United Speed Alliance Racing organisation, sanctioning body of the Hooters Pro Cup Series, a short-track stock car touring series, devised a five-race playoff system where the top teams in their Hooters ProCup North and Hooters ProCup South divisions would participate in a five-race playoff, the Four Champions, named for the four Hooters Racing staff members (including 1992 NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki) and pilot killed in an April 1, 1993 plane crash in Blountville, Tennessee. The system organised the teams with starting points based on the team's performance in their division (division champions earn a bonus), and the teams would participate in a five-race playoff. The five races, added to the team's seeding points, would determine the winner. The 2001 version was four races, as one was cancelled because of the September 11th terrorist attacks; however, NASCAR watched as the ProCup's Four Champions became a success and drivers from the series began looking at NASCAR rides.

When Nextel took over NASCAR's premier sponsorship for the 2004 season, they looked to USAR and the Hooters ProCup for two major changes in scoring. First, five additional points were added for a race win. Second, a new formula for declaring a series champion based on the ProCup system was devised. A cut was made after 26 races, with the high ten drivers and teams plus ties, and anyone within 400 points of the leader placed in the Chase for the Championship (or simply "The Chase"). The Chase participants have their points increased to a level mathematically unattainable by anyone outside this field (roughly 1800 points ahead of the first driver outside of the Chase), which usually is 5,050 points for the leader, with other positions dropping by five points per position, with a limit of 5,000 points after ties and the 400 point cut. Race layouts remain the same and points are scored the same way in the final 10 races. Whoever leads in points after the 36th race is declared the NEXTEL Cup champion.

The highest finishing non-Chase driver is awarded a bonus slightly lower then the last Chase position and the next highest finishing position, and also the final position at the awards banquet, to encourage continued competition among all drivers. (There are awards at the Top 20 and 25 drivers and teams, and 35 teams at the end of the season.)

This playoff system was implemented primarily to make the points race more competitive late in the season, and indirectly, to increase television ratings during the NFL season, which starts around the same time as the Chase begins. Furthermore, the Chase also forces teams to perform at their best during all three stages of the season -- the first half of the regular season, the second half of the regular season, and the Chase.

Previously, the Cup champion may have been decided before the last race (or even several races before the end of the season) because it was mathematically impossible for any other driver to gain enough points to overtake the leader.

From 2004-2006 the Chase was shown on NBC Sports and TNT. Beginning in 2007, ABC Sports has acquired the license to air the Chase, until 2014.

Championship points system

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

For all NASCAR series Championships, (including Busch and Truck) driver points are given out for each race based on two categories: Final Position, and Laps Led.

For points according to position, there are three different scales. First Place gets 180 points, with ten points separating first from second. It is impossible to win a race without leading a lap, so the minimum for a winner to receive is 185 points. After second place (170 points), the first scale starts, with five points separating second through sixth place. After sixth place the second scale starts, separating drivers by four points for positions seven through eleven. After that, the third scale is in effect, separating the rest of the field by three points. (see chart on left) This is why cars will sometimes go back on track after a wreck, even if they have no chance of winning. By moving up three positions, they gain nine more points. For points according to laps led, if a driver has led at least one lap in the race, they are awarded an extra 5 points on top of what they earned based on position. In addition, the driver who leads the most laps earns an additional 5 points, for a maximum of 10 points. Lap leadership is determined at the finish line on each lap. A driver cannot simply lead part of a lap on the back stretch; the driver must be the first across the line to be considered the leader for that lap, or is declared the leader by crossing the last scoring loop as the leader when a caution is signaled.

Drivers points are assigned to the driver who starts the race. It is legal (though rare) to change drivers during a race, but the replacement driver gets no points. When Martin Truex, Jr. replaced Dale Earnhardt, Jr. during a 2004 race at New Hampshire International Speedway (while Earnhardt was recovering from an injury), the points counted towards Earnhardt's total.

Points are also given to the owner of a car. For a car that makes the field, the owner points are the same as the driver points for that race. Cars that fail to qualify for a race gain owner points based on how well they qualified, continuing the 3 points per position so that the 44th car in qualifying gets 31 points, the 45th gets 28 points, and so forth.

Since 2005, the top teams in owner points (35 in Nextel Cup, 30 in Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series, must be full time teams) earn an exemption into the starting field. If weather conditions prevent qualifying from occurring, the starting order for the race is set using owner points (top 35/30), then former series champions, then the defending race winner, then current year race winners, and then by most qualifying attempts with owner points breaking ties. For the first five races in each year, the owner points from last year are used instead. Since the top drivers usually race the same car in every race, this has little effect on the championship, but this can affect the strategy of new or lower ranked teams.

For example, Hall of Fame Racing had Terry Labonte in their #96 car in the first five Nextel Cup races in 2006. As a former champion, Terry Labonte was entitled to start in each race, even if the car encountered a difficulty in qualifying. With five guaranteed starts, the #96 car was easily able to gain enough owner points to place it in the top 35 and thus give regular driver Tony Raines a guaranteed starting spot in each race when he took over the driver's seat for the rest of the year. Lower ranked teams sometimes use a road racing specialist when the race is one of the few each year held on a road course to maximize the owner points of the car, especially when they are near the top 35 exemption.

NASCAR points system development

From the beginning of championship series until 1967 championship points were based on prize money purses. Races with lesser purses paid fewer points than races with bigger purses.

First, NASCAR point system used for championship from 1949 till 1951 awarded points on basis 10 points for the 1st place, 9 pts for 2nd, 8 pts for 3rd and so on, multiplied by 0.05*race purse (Race worth $4000 paid 200 points to the winner, 180 for 2nd place...). No info about how many points were given to drivers finishing below 10th place.

From 1952 till 1967, NASCAR point system was based on linear scale for first 25 positions: 25-24-23-... Coefficients changed, but were always depending on prize money. From 25th place down there were awarded the same number of points.

In 1968, NASCAR started to award points depending on race distance, not prize money. Point system was 50-49-48-... multiplied by 1 for events to 249 miles, 2 for events 250-399 miles and 3 for events 400 miles and more. System stopped from 50th place. This system was in use until the end of 1971 season.

In 1972, together with shortening the schedule, the point system was also modified. Basic points of 100-98-96-... were awarded for each race. Additionally, lap points were awarded for the number of laps completed. Tracks under 1 mile, 0.25 points a lap; 1-mile tracks, 0.50; 1.3-mile track (Darlington), 0.70; 1.5-mile tracks, 0.75; 2-mile tracks (Michigan), 1.00; tracks 2.5 miles and over, 1.25. This system was also used in 1973.

In 1974, the points system was simple: Total money winnings from all track purses (qualifying and contingency awards did not count), in dollars, multiplied by the number of races started, and the resulting figure divided by 1,000 determined the number of points earned. By the end of the season Richard Petty had such a big lead in points, that he increased it even by finishing 30th while his main rival Cale Yarborough made a top-5 (Remember - the money was multiplied by the number of races started. Even if Cale made more money in one particular race, when the total money was multiplied by e. g. 27, the difference between the two leaders could also increase in comparison with situation after race 26).

The current NASCAR's points system was developed in 1975 following years of trouble in trying to develop a points system -- from 1949 until 1971, six different systems were used, and in 1972, NASCAR used a different system each year for the next three years.

That type of inconsistency, which included a system which rewarded most mileage for the entire season, and then another year where mileage and finishing positions were counted, favored larger circuits, and some fans complained about a champion who only won one race. That resulted in a 1974 ill-fated attempt at basing the points system on money and starts. Even though one driver won consecutive races, his opponent who had won the big money races had scored more points.

Bob Latford, a former public relations official at Lowe's Motor Speedway, devised NASCAR's most popular points system, which was adopted in 1975, which NASCAR used two different versions for their series from 1982 until 1998. In the system, the winner received 175 points, second 170 points, and other positions exactly the same as the current points system.

Until 1998, the Busch Series points system offered 180 points for the winner, but no bonuses for leading laps. The same was true for the Craftsman Truck Series until the end of that season, when NASCAR decided to standardise the points system for their series.

One complaint about the points system was how a driver could finish second and receive an equal number of points as a race winner, which was possible if the driver who led the most laps finished second. NASCAR fixed the problem in 2004 by adding five points to the winner.

NEXTEL Cup Driver's Championship

After the 26th race with ten races to go, the Driver's Championship points are changed in accordance with the "Chase for the Cup", with the leader in championship points having their total altered to 5050 points, second place altered to 5045, and so on for all eligible drivers.

One important note is that the points system does not change after the 26th race. (during the "Chase for the Cup") While the only drivers eligible for the championship are those in the chase, all points are awarded in the same manner. Another important note is that only the NEXTEL Cup standings points are altered, not for any other series in NASCAR -- Busch, Craftsman Truck, or the regional series -- AutoZone Elite Division series (four, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, Midwest), Grand National Division series (two, North and West), or Whelen Modified Tours (two, North and South).

NEXTEL Cup Owner's Championship

The NEXTEL Cup Owner's Championship operates in the same manner as the Driver's Championship, but with one addition. In the event of more than 43 cars attempting to qualify for a race, owner's points are awarded to each car in the following manner: the fastest non-qualifier (in essence, 44th position) receives 31 points, three less than the 43rd position car. If there is more than one non-qualifying car, owners' points continue to be assigned in the manner described, decreasing by three for each position.

There is a separate "chase for the championship" for the owners' points.

A 2005 rule change in NASCAR's three national series affects how the owner's points are used. The top 35 (Nextel Cup), or top 30 (other series) full-time teams in owner points are awarded exemptions for the next race, guaranteeing them a position in the next race. These points can decide who is in and out the next race, and have become crucial since the exemption rule was changed to its current format.

In some circumstances, a team's owners' points will differ from the corresponding driver's points. In 2005, after owner Jack Roush fired Kurt Busch during the next-to-last race weekend of the season, the #97 team finished in eighth place in owner's points, while Busch ended up tenth in driver's points. In 2002, when Sterling Marlin was injured, the #40 team finished eighth in owner's points, while Marlin was 19th in driver's points, because of the substitute drivers who kept earning owner points for the #40.

Manufacturer's Championship

NASCAR does have a Manufacturer's Championship in their national series, although the Driver's Championship is considered more prestigious. In the past, manufacturer's championships were very prestigious because of the number of manufacturers involved, and the manufacturer's championship was a major marketing tool. In the Busch Series, the championship is known as the Bill France Performance Cup.

Points are scored in a 1960-1990 Formula One system, with the winner's manufacturer scoring nine points, six for the next manufacturer, four for the manufacturer third among makes, three for the fourth, two for the fifth, and one point for the sixth positioned manufacturer. This means that if Chevrolets place first through tenth in a given race and a Ford is 11th and a Dodge 12th, Chevrolet earns 9 points, Ford 6 and Dodge 4.

NEXTEL Cup tracks

List of current Nextel Cup series tracks
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Hampton, GA
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol, TN
California Speedway
Fontana, CA
Chicagoland Speedway
Joliet, IL
Darlington Raceway
Darlington, SC
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, FL
Dover International Speedway
Dover, DE
Homestead-Miami Speedway
Homestead, FL
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Speedway, IN
Infineon Raceway
Sonoma, CA
Kansas Speedway
Kansas City, KS
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas, NV
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Concord, NC
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville, VA
Michigan International Speedway
Brooklyn, MI
New Hampshire International Speedway
Loudon, NH
Phoenix International Raceway
Avondale, AZ
Pocono Raceway
Long Pond, PA
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond, VA
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, AL
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, TX
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen, NY

Manufacturer Representation: Grand National Era (1949-1971)

"Forty Years of Stock Car Racing -- Volume Three" by Greg Fielden
  • Hudson Hornet: 1951-1952
  • Dodge Coronet: 1953-1957
  • Chrysler 300 letter series: 1955-1956
  • unknown Oldsmobile: 1957-1958
  • unknown Pontiac: 1960-1963
  • Ford Fairlane: 1960-1967
  • Mercury Comet / Cyclone: 1963-1971
  • Plymouth Belvedere: 1964-1967
  • Chevrolet Chevelle: 1964-1971
  • Ford Torino / Torino Talladega: 1968-1971
  • Dodge Charger / Charger Daytona: 1969-1971
  • Plymouth Superbird: 1971

Manufacturer Representation: Modern Era (1972-present)


  • Chevrolet Chevelle: 1972-1977
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass: 1977-1992
  • Pontiac Grand Prix: 1977-2003
  • Chevrolet Monte Carlo: 1979-1989, 1995-current
  • Buick Regal: 1981-1985, 1988-1991
  • Chevrolet Lumina: 1989-1994


  • Dodge Charger: 1972-1978, Dodge Charger: 2005-current
  • Dodge Intrepid: 2001-2004
  • Plymouth Road Runner: 1972-1978


  • ?: 1975-1980
  • Ford Thunderbird: 1981-1997
  • Ford Taurus: 1998-2005
  • Ford Fusion: 2006-current
  • Mercury Cyclone / Montego 1972-1980


  • AMC Matador: 1972-1980
  • Toyota Camry: beginning in 2007

NASCAR Nextel Cup trivia

  • The youngest modern era (1972-present) champion was Jeff Gordon in 1995 at age 24, the oldest was Dale Jarrett in 1999 at age 43. Bill Rexford won the 1950 Championship at the age of 21, making him the youngest champion all time.
  • Benny Parsons, Bill Rexford, Ned Jarrett, and Matt Kenseth are the only series champions to have one single series victory and still win the title. No drivers have gone an entire season without winning a race, and still winning the championship. For Bill Rexford that was his only career win.
  • Alan Kulwicki was the last owner/driver, and the last driver to win the Series title for a single car team (Both feats nearly impossible today due to many factors).
  • The Nextel Cup trophy is designed by Tiffany, and is silver with a pair of checkered flags in flight, it is heavily guarded by the U.S. Army until the final race and in 2005 was delivered by United Parcel Service to Homestead, Fla. (Both organizations sponsor Nextel Cup teams.)
  • Since the modern schedule began in 1972, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, New Hampshire International Speedway, and the defunct Ontario Motor Speedway and Riverside International Raceway are the only tracks that have hosted the season finale.
  • Since 1981, the Nextel Cup Awards Banquet is held in New York City at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, initially in the Starlight Room, but, in 1985, NASCAR moved the banquet to the Grand Ballroom, where it would be held until 2000. NASCAR did not hold a formal banquet in 2001, when the awards ceremony stayed at the Grand Ballroom, or in 2002, when the Awards Ceremony was held at the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center. The banquet format returned in 2003, again at the Grand Ballroom.
  • Tony Stewart and Cale Yarborough are the only drivers to finish last in the Daytona 500 and still win the Nextel Cup series title.
  • Cale Yarborough is the only driver ever to win three consecutive championships, from 1976 until 1978.
  • Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, and Bill Rexford and Herb Thomas are the only teammates to win Nextel Cup Series titles.
  • Richard Petty is the single-season winningest driver with an unprecedented 27 wins in 1967; additionally, that season he was also the first to break the $100,000 barrier in earnings. The 27 wins took place in a 48-race season (although there were 49 races, the 100-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500 were championship races until the 1971 minimum distance requirement, and actually took 51 weeks, from November 13, 1966 (Augusta, GA) until November 5, 1967 (Weaverville, NC). Richard Petty hold the modern era record with 13 wins (in 30 races) in a season. Jeff Gordon also has 13 wins (1998), but his 13 wins took place in a 33-race season, with his thirteenth win being in the 33rd (and final) race. (Petty's 1975 season had his thirteenth win in the 30th race.)
  • Two champions are children of previous champions: Dale Jarrett is Ned Jarrett's son and Richard Petty is Lee Petty's son. Terry and Bobby Labonte are the only brother combination to have won championships.
  • The Daytona 500 was not always the first points race of the year. NASCAR used to run at Riverside before going to Daytona in 1965 and 1970-1981. Until 1971, the qualifying races were points races.

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