Indy 500 Doube Points Scrapped: A Good Decision?
Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Double points have been a feature of the Indianapolis 500 since 2014, with Pocono and Fontana also following that premise during a time when three 500-mile races were on the calendar. Between 2015 and 2019, double points were also given for the final race of the season, before being scrapped ahead of the 2020 season.
However, after nine editions of the Indy 500 awarding double points, it has been announced that the concept will be removed for 2023, with regular points-scoring to be followed at the Brickyard once again.
For the last nine years, the winner has been awarded 100 points. Finishing seventh has earned drivers one point more than the winner of any ordinary race, while finishing eighth has given drivers one point less than any usual victor. But this will no longer be the case.
“For 17 consecutive seasons, the championship has been decided in the final race,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said in an announcement to the teams. “While double points have not altered who won the season-long championship, it has occasionally had a negative effect on the final position of the full-time teams.”
As Frye justified, removing double points earned through the Indy 500 across the last nine editions doesn’t hypothetically change the outcome of any championship winner from 2014 onwards.
In 2022, Marcus Ericsson won the Indy 500, and his sixth-place finish in the championship would have remained, irrespective of double or single points awarded. In Ericsson’s case, the only thing that would have been altered amid a season of consistency may have been the perception of him as a championship protagonist.
However, double points have been known to alter the complexities of championships, either by giving drivers’ seasons a boost, or especially by seeing poor results punished to an unnecessarily high degree.
For instance, Will Power finished down in 15th in the Indy 500 last year, and still went on to be crowned champion, but he was aided by somewhat substandard results for his championship rivals; Josef Newgarden finished 12th, while Scott Dixon, third in the championship behind Newgarden, finished further back in 21st.
Dixon was in contention for the win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before he was hit with a penalty for speeding in pit lane. If he was to go on to win the race, he would have, hypothetically speaking, earned enough points to win the championship through the double points system.
There is a viable argument that jeopardy is a necessary part of racing, and that has been offered by double points being awarded for the Indy 500. But, in this case, the jeopardy has felt somewhat artificial, and the ramifications for errors - most recently prevalent with Dixon in 2022 - have been, probably unfairly, twice as harsh.
When drivers have to retire through no fault of their own or a moment of misfortune, be it through a penalty, crash, or failure, the impact due to the awarding of double points has seemed unjust. Additionally, any such mishaps are exacerbated anyway by the greater number of cars that enter the Indy 500, with full-time teams ostensibly penalised.
For instance, Scott McLaughlin, who won three races on his way to a fourth-place championship finish in 2022, was the highest running Penske car at the Indy 500 last year before crashing out of the race, harming his own bid for a possible championship.
At the same time, it is valid to suggest that the amount of time and effort necessary to prepare and qualify for the Indy 500, especially across the month of May, necessitates greater rewards than any usual race. It is the most famous and prestigious race on the calendar, while also the longest, so it is understandable why the reward has been greater.
But, with double points awarded for only a solitary race, it gives a sense of other races being almost less important, which shouldn’t be the case in such a high profile championship, even when the prestige of the Indy 500 is taken into account.
Consistency with regards to points-scoring should be prioritised to prevent drivers being overly rewarded or, conversely, excessively punished for a one-off race. And with double points awarded, there is also a threat of reduced competitiveness as drivers adopt a more conservative approach in order to settle in higher points-paying positions.
Removing double points could be rendered as being reductive of the prestige of the Indy 500 relative to the past nine years, with less of a reward for a race of such magnitude. But, in any case, the spectacle will not be diminished by a change to the points-scoring system.
There are, of course, as outlined here, conflicting arguments related to whether double points should be awarded. But IndyCar have likely made the right move in eradicating the concept, given how contentious a topic it has become among followers of the series.