Even though the 24-race 2017 season doesn’t start for a month, the National Hot Rod Association is already thinking about the end of the season, revealing significant changes for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
On Wednesday, the NHRA Competition Committee announced changes to qualifying and the amount of points that can be earned, particularly for the season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona.
Here’s how things break down:
* Drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle that compete in the Auto Club Finals will race for increased points that could ultimately result in some surprising come-from-behind championship finishes.
First, the amount of points that can be earned by a single driver in the Finals will increase from 130 to 191 points. The winner of the Finals in each professional class will receive 150 points, runner-up will earn 120 points; semifinalists will earn 90 points apiece; second-round finishers will earn 60 points each; and first-round finishers will all claim 30 points.
Also, qualifying points will increase from 10 to 15 for the Finals.
Ultimately, the maximum of 191 points that can be earned will be based upon the 150 points earned for winning the race, 15 points for qualifying, and additional 10 points for earning overall No. 1 qualifying honors and a maximum total of 16 bonus points for the four quickest runs of each of the four qualifying sessions prior to the final day’s round of eliminations.
The new points system for the Auto Club Finals looks like this:
Auto Club NHRA Finals points
Third-round loser 90
Second-round loser 60
First-round loser 30
Points for qualifying positions at the Auto Club NHRA Finals
1st – 10
2nd – 9
3rd – 8
4th – 7
5th and 6th – 6
7th and 8th – 5
9th through 12th – 4
13th through 16th – 3
Qualifying bonus points at the Auto Club NHRA Finals are awarded after each qualifying session for the first-, second-, third- and fourth-quickest passes of each session:
1st — 4
2nd — 3
3rd — 2
4th — 1
* The start of the six-race Countdown will also see changes. The driver who is leading their respective class after the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis will be crowned “regular season champion” and will receive a 20-point bonus over other Countdown contenders.
In other words, when points are reset for the Countdown, the regular season champ will start with 2,100 points, while No. 2 through No. 10 will start the playoffs with 10-point increments ranging from 2,080 (for No. 2) down to 2,000 points (for No. 10).
* Another change to the Countdown structure is “if a driver who qualified for the playoffs and is eligible for the championship does not qualify at a Countdown event in which two qualifying sessions were not completed, said driver will be guaranteed a qualifying position in the event’s final 16-car field.
“That driver will be inserted into the (16-driver elimination) ladder in the position of the non-championship eligible driver with the least amount of points entering the event.”
“We believe the changes for the 2017 season will increase the level of competition in all the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories. The points-and-half up for grabs at the Auto Club NHRA Finals will bring a heightened level of excitement for the fans and the racers at the conclusion of the thrilling race season,” Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations Vice President, said in a statement.