The Daytona 500 isn’t until Sunday, but Denny Hamlin and pole-sitter Chase Elliott already lead the points standings in the the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. That may sound odd, because this is the first time since 1971 that drivers have received points in qualifying races prior to the show on Sunday.
Elliott ran and won the first of two qualifying races, now dubbed the Can-Am Duels, that set the field for the Daytona 500 on Thursday night. Hamlin, who wound up sixth in single-car qualifying, won the second Duel.
Since single-car qualifying prior to the Duels locks in the pole and outside pole positions, it isn’t often that a pole-sitter gets up there and wins the thing—for that driver, the Duels are usually for sitting back and avoiding wrecks while the rest of the field fights for Sunday’s starting spots.
But that somewhat changed this year. In its conundrum of a new racing format for the 2017 season, NASCAR introduced points to the Duels for the first time since 1971. That made the Duels worth more than just starting spots, with the top 10 drivers in each Duel earning points that count toward the regular season: each winner received 10 points, counting down by one through 10th place.
The “regular season” is an important distinction in points this year, because NASCAR’s new stage-based race format added “playoff” points, which carry over into the post season, that could be earned for more than just race wins. (Under the old format, drivers carried certain amounts of playoff points into what used to be called the “Chase” based on number of wins only.)
In 2017, drivers will get playoff points for things such as leading at the end of in-race stages and being atop the standings at the end of the regular season—an accomplishment long ignored in the era of NASCAR postseason.
Wait, what’s that? You’re confused about the points? Oh. That’s OK. Just go Whose Line Is It Anyway on this thing and try to enjoy the racing.
Elliott and Hamlin are in the lead. That’s all for now.