Stage Wins, Points Losses

In spite of winning 6 out of 21 Tour stages, Britain’s Mark Cavendish lost out to Norwegian Thor Hushovd for the sprinters “Green Jersey” competition. Rather than time-based, this competition awards points for finishes in stages (as well as small awards for intra-stage sprints) depending on the type of stage. The Tour referees docked Cavendish 13 points for an alleged blocking maneuver at the end of one stage. Even with those 13 points, however, Cavendish would have eked out only a 3 point win, although Hushovd won only one stage.

In the sports econ literature the prize structures in golf, tennis, and NASCAR have attracted attention. These sports also utilize points systems that closely resemble their prize structures. Below, I posted a chart contrasting the points awarded for the top 25 finishers in events across the Tour, regular PGA Tour events, and NASCAR.

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The PGA Tour and NASCAR differ widely in their degree of equality between top finishers and those below them with the Tour in the middle.

The highly skewed structures of golf (and tennis) promote a lot of effort to win once participation takes place. The much more equal structures of the Tour and NASCAR incentivize very different behaviors. Peter von Allmen has suggested that the dangers inherent in NASCAR and the desire sponsors have for their drivers to stay in the race lead to the more caution-inducing incentives. It’s interesting that another sport like cycling where there are significant dangers to unsafe “driving” also uses a relatively equal points distribution.

An article on provides the historical context for the evolution of NASCAR points with a twist on von Allmen’s explanation:

According to Holmer, Latford went back to his office and started thinking about how to create a simple but elegant points system that took into consideration several key elements: a sliding scale based solely on finishing order, something that would reward consistency and make it imperative for teams to run the entire schedule, and keep the scale narrow enough to provide for late-season championship battles.

Getting individuals/teams to races had been a difficulty for NASCAR in the 1970s. This speaks to the tradeoffs of the varying points structures. Highly skewed structures may promote bold, aggressive activity but they make it possible to get paid a lot and seldom show up (e.g. Tiger — whose non-award income is so high as to dominate actual prize winnings anyway). In the Tour, appearance may not be the issue per se, but consistency of effort is. The equal points system rewarded Hushovd for effort expended on some of the typical “off” days for sprinters. Nonetheless, when a guy wins nearly 1/3 of all the Tour stages and can’t take the overall title, one wonders of the rewards to consistency are too great.

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Author: Brian Goff

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