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Points changes are interesting

Although the 2011 NASCAR season is only three races old, the top two series have a week’s vacation and will not race again until next week in Bristol. And, even this early in the season, I’m going to miss not having a Sprint Cup or Nationwide race to watch this weekend.

I am really beginning to like the new points system NASCAR put in place this season. With a bigger emphasis on winning and more ground to make up if a driver has a bad finish, the racing so far was been great. Add the fact that Jimmie Johnson has not won a race yet, well, it’s just ice cream on the cake.

In addition to the new points system, I would say the other most notable change NASCAR made in the off-season is working as intended. Fed up with Sprint Cup drivers winning the Nationwide Series championship for the last several years and dominating those races along the way, NASCAR drew a line in the sand.

For the first time, drivers had to choose in which of the top three series they would race for points. In other words, Kyle Busch can compete all he wants in the Camping World Truck Series, but he earns no championship points in those races. So far, the domination of these races by the Sprint Cups guys has not changed, but the points standings sure look different than they would have without the change.

The top 41 drivers in the points standing in the Nationwide Series have a grand total of zero wins. But, there are no full-time Sprint Cup drivers included in those first 41 positions. Sprint Cup drivers who earn no points for winning have won all three races in this series. They only earn purse money—which has been cut significantly in the series this year—and most importantly, the sponsor money.

The current top five in Nationwide points are Reed Sorenson, Ricky Stenhouse, Jason Leffler, Danica Patrick (yes, Danica Patrick), and Justin Allgaier.

At this time last year, the top five in points were Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Justin Allgaier, and Paul Menard. Big difference, I would say.

There are also some pleasant surprises in the Sprint Cup top 10. Tied at the top are Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, but Paul Menard is sixth, Martin Truex is seventh, and AJ Allmendinger is ninth.

A non-Sprint Cup champion in the Nationwide series is guaranteed this season, but I would be happy to see the non-Superstars in Sprint Cup continue to compete for a spot in the Chase and shake the points standings up a bit.

After this off week, the series goes to Bristol and there will be racing until the next off week, Easter Sunday on April 24. By then, we will have completed eight races and will have a pretty good idea of who’s going to have a good season and who will not.