DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson understands that speculation over a new points system is often viewed as NASCAR's attempt to end his five-year championship reign.
It makes no difference to him, though, if NASCAR throws out its 36-year-old points system or rewrites the eligibility requirements on the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson said he'll be ready to race — and win — under any format.
"I don't care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship, I could care less," Johnson said, "because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances."
Johnson's record five titles have all come in the Chase system, which debuted in 2004 and already has been tweaked once before. He was unbeatable in a 10-driver field, and it didn't change when expansion pushed the Chase to 12 drivers who were seeded based on bonus points earned through "regular season" victories.
He didn't take it personally when NASCAR chairman Brian France indicated last summer more changes could come during the offseason, and Johnson's not stressing about where the series could be headed. The Associated Press reported earlier this week NASCAR is considering dumping the points system used since 1975 in favor of a simpler method that awards points based directly on the finishing position in the 43-car field.
"There's a lot of speculation at this point, but in theory, if it is 43 points for the winner on down to one for the last-place car, in concept it's still very similar to what we have now," Johnson said. "I know people expect me to react and think, 'Oh, they've got to leave it alone, don't change it.'"
NASCAR's brief offseason ended Thursday when drivers reported to Daytona International Speedway for three days of testing in preparation for next month's season-opener. Although drivers were pleased with the smooth surface on the newly paved track, much of the talk centered on NASCAR's upcoming changes.
France is not scheduled to speak until next Wednesday night in Charlotte, N.C., but top NASCAR officials have been privately floating their ideas with teams since last week. Among the ideas is the straight scoring system, and a 12-driver Chase field that includes the top-10 drivers from the "regular season" and two wild-card spots to the winningest drivers not otherwise eligible.
Drivers report to Daytona on Feb. 10, but there didn't seem to be any qualms about not knowing what the rules will be this close to the start of the season.
"As long as we all start the year and we understand what the point structure is and how you get the points, then you race accordingly," said two-time champion Tony Stewart, the last driver to win the Chase before Johnson's run began in 2006.
"I don't think the competitors really care. We just want to know what it is before we start the season so we know what we have to do, if the first race is going to mean as much as the last race."
The drivers do seem interested in the proposed 43-to-1 system because it's simpler not only to fans, but the drivers themselves.
"If I am running 12th or something, I don't even know how many points that is worth and I have been doing this long enough that I should know," Carl Edwards said.
The current system was reportedly drawn up on a napkin over drinks at a Daytona bar. The current system awards 185 points to the race winner while the runner-up receives 170. Five-point gaps separate positions two through six, then four points separate seventh through 11, and 12th through 43rd are separated in three-point increments.
There also is a five-point bonus available for leading a lap, and a five-point bonus to the driver that leads the most laps. The winning driver can claim as much as 195 points.
It's not clear yet what the bonus for winning or leading a lap would be under NASCAR's proposed changes.
Kurt Busch, winner of the inaugural 2004 Chase, said he'd like to explore the math before deciding how he feels about a new points system.
"I'd like to go back for myself and just do research and plug those numbers into past years and to see who comes out on top or to see how things change around and to help fine tune it a little bit more," he said. "You still want it to be about consistency, but you have to be consistent during those 10 (Chase) weeks.
"When you sit there and change around points 100 different ways, we still end up with the same champion nine times out of 10 it seems like."