Posted: May 06, 2020
Earning Points in OPTIMA's 2020 Search for the Ultimate Street Car
Regardless of whatever else is going on in the world, OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts (DriveOPTIMA), can give us an opportunity to focus our attention on something fun and competitive and that holds true in 2020, just as it did in the series' first season six years ago. However, because of the times we live in, there have been some disruptions that have never occurred in prior event history.
DriveOPTIMA events are for street cars and they run rain or shine, but for the first time in seven seasons, we had to postpone an event. In a series that runs 20 weekends out of the year, a postponement could be tough to re-schedule, but we run just seven qualifying events before everyone heads to Las Vegas for the SEMA Show and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), presented by Advance Auto Parts, so juggling the schedule a bit isn't too impossible of a task to accomplish. However, we understand that change and uncertain economic times can present some unique challenges in 2020, that competitors haven't faced in prior seasons. That raises the question of how points entries for SEMA and the OUSCI might work in 2020.
For those who are new to the series or unfamiliar with how invitations to SEMA and the OUSCI are handed out, we'll offer a quick refresher. Each class winner at each qualifying event earns an entry to SEMA and the OUSCI. If that car has already earned an invitation, the next-highest finisher in that class will receive an invitation. At the end of the season, the top-3 cars in each class, that have not yet received a points invitation will get one. After those are awarded, the top-10 cars in points, regardless of class, will also receive invitations (Outlaw cars do not receive points invitations and do not compete for the OUSCI title, but do compete for the Outlaw Class Cup in Las Vegas).
Traditionally, the amount of points needed to earn a points invitation has been around 1,000 points on the season. That means a driver who didn't win their way in at an event would need to average about 333 points at their best three events to put themselves in the running for a points entry. Will 2020 be different? Maybe and if it is, the points system, through the sheer genius or dumb luck of it's design, is already set up to handle any fluctuations from the norm. If it only takes 900 points to earn a points entry in 2020, then that will be what it takes. If it takes 1,100, then that's fine too.
Since we've already run the season-opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we can take a look at the numbers from that event, as well as those from last season and try to determine what the rest of the 2020 season may hold. A total of 78 cars signed up for LVMS, but given the uncertainty of our times, just 56 cars made it to the track. Of the 56 cars that made it to the track, 48 scored at least 333 points, which has been that traditional threshold for points entries. However, the more telling number may be the lowest score posted for any car that ran in all segments and that score was 305 points.
That low point total mark may be a strong indicator of which events and which fields offered the best chances to pick up points. We don't know what the rest of 2020 will hold, but 305 was a higher number than we saw anywhere during the 2019 season. Also, that same driver and car (he probably made some changes to the car, but it was the same car) only scored 265 points at Las Vegas last year, so that was a significant increase.
Last year at the season-opener in Las Vegas, we had a 74-car field and 44 of 77 grabbed at least 333 points. You'll find a benchmark range to be relatively-consistent throughout the series, with cars somewhere out to the 40s overall posting totals of at least 333 points. However, the lowest point total at the Vegas season-opener for a car that ran in all segments was just 177 points, so it seems points were much harder to come by in last year's field.
As we move on to the other tracks, we saw 42 of 80 cars score at least 333 points at Daytona, with the lowest score posted in all segments being 188 points. That may suggest a deeper field at the top, but shallower competitive waters outside the top contenders. NCM Motorsports Park may have proven to be the toughest qualifying event of the 2019 season, even though 46 of 83 cars posted at least 333 points. There were a lot of top contenders in that field, who did very well, but still more than a dozen cars that scored over 300 points, but less than 333 points. The lowest score that ran in all segments there posted just 157 points.
We had another big field at Pike's Peak, with 74 cars competing and 49 of those cars posting at least 333 points with the low score in all segments totaling 249 points. If geography isn't a factor and someone is looking at which events hold the potential for the most points for mid-pack cars, those numbers tell us to stay away from NCM Motorsports Park (which is already sold-out for 2020) and perhaps consider PPIR instead, but let's see what happened at the other tracks in 2019, before we draw any more conclusions.
Road America had a 72-car field in 2019 and 47 of 72 scored at least 333 points with the lowest score in all segments coming in at 255 points. A whopping 97 cars signed up for Auto Club Speedway, but just 61 cars made it to the track for the last West Coast qualifier of 2019. A total of 48 out of 61 cars posted at least 333 points, while the lowest score in all segments was 304 points.
Registrations were even higher for NOLA Motorsports Park, with 112 entries, but only 54 cars made the field and 45 of 54 scored at least 333 points, while the lowest point total in all segments was 332 points. So we saw a range of 42-49 cars at each event last year posting at least 333 points at events and that number will likely remain constant in 2020, regardless of the size of the fields.
However, we also saw that when the field is smaller, the chances that your car will be on the top side of 333 points increases accordingly. The biggest fields in 2019 also saw the lowest scores at the bottom end, so what does that mean for 2020? Since it is already sold-out, it likely means NCM Motorsports Park will once again be the toughest qualifying event to run, if someone is looking to pick up points, followed by Road America and Pike's Peak, which as of this writing, each have less than ten spots remaining. Unlike last year, where NOLA was the final qualifying event of the season, that placement on the schedule falls to NCM Motorsports Park this year. That means if you find yourself chasing points later in the season, figure out how to get to New Orleans, because that will likely offer more opportunities than Bowling Green.
Willow Springs and NOLA Motorsports Park are at the other end of the spectrum, with plenty of entries remaining for those events, which could yield high point totals for the cars that do make the trek to those tracks. While the focus of this article has been on qualifying for Las Vegas, a similar analysis could suggest optimal tracks for those seeking points championships in 2020.
Obviously, if someone ran all seven events (as some plan to do), they have their bases covered even though point totals are based on your best-three finishes. It is possible that if someone cherry-picked a geographically unorthodox schedule of Las Vegas, Willow Springs and NOLA Motorsports Park, that they could set themselves up nicely for a run at a regular season championship, versus a car that competes at NCM Motorsports, Road America and Pike's Peak. However, the wildcard in that analysis would have to include which top contenders in each class also planned on running at specific events, as top contenders tend to take points more directly from their competition.
We're excited to have the season resume at Willow Springs later this month and we wish for a safe and enjoyable season for all of our competitors. Don't forget to check out all the past seasons of DriveOPTIMA on the OPTIMA Network, which is a free download on Amazon Fire TV.