NASCAR’s Parity Problem

2013 Chasers in Vegas

Parity. The NFL has achieved it. NASCAR seems to want it. Let’s back up the truck for a moment. NASCAR the governing body wants parity, and has gone to great pains to achieve a competitive balance. The fans? Well, this is where the story becomes a sticky wicket.

While it’s true a cacophony rises every time a Richard Petty, a Dale Earnhardt, a Jeff Gordon, or a Jimmie Johnson dominates the sport, tossing out equalizers isn’t always the silver bullet one may think it is. It can be a case of be careful what you wish for; or put another way, the sickness hurts, but the cure can kill you.

After much reflection, it seems that for the fan the issue is not one of having parity but how you get there. While numerous fans groan at a Jimmie Johnson “stinking up the show,” the real problem is one of the appearance of manipulation to achieve a desired outcome.

When a race field gets strung out, a mystery debris caution is thrown. Fans get treated to a few laps of excitement (and sometimes carnage), until the the cars fan out again. Worried about teams developing the secret sauce that brings back the days of one manufacturer dominance and a handful of cars on the lead lap? Create a template for teams to work from, hamstring engineering creativity, and bust them hard when they color outside the lines. When all else fails, tweak the rules as often as needed: changing the points, changing qualification procedures, or whatever is needed to mollify the negative sentiments of the day.

Not to get political here, but if you think about it, but such steps smack of a kind of sports socialism, not a notion that flies well in the good ol’ USA. Put another way, a championship you won because you spanked the competition frankly is a lot more fulfilling the a nail biter attained by manufactured drama. Say what you will about the disparity in the days of old, and while it’s true Petty had advantages the back markers could only dream of, you knew you were doing something when you beat “The King.” Petty Enterprises enjoyed the heyday they had through innovation, elbow grease, and a committed support team. In spite of all that, David Pearson- NASCAR’s original free spirit- still provided fans a thrill by going toe-to-toe with Petty, the two finishing 1-2 63 times (!) between 1963 and 1977 (Pearson was the winner in 33 of those events.)

This is not to discredit the modern driver, Jimmie Johnson in particular. This observer submits he and his team have the drive and the resources to win no matter what cards you deal them.

You hear the disaffected compare NASCAR to professional wrestling. It’s not hard to understand why. Sometimes a driver or a make will dominate. It all ends sooner or later.

Frankly, when it comes to all the equalizers, if you ask the question of “How’s that working for you?” It isn’t really working the way NASCAR had hoped. It’s time to turn ’em loose, and may the best man or woman win. If one dominates, get better by outworking him. As it is now, we have a series where a win is about as thrilling as kissing your sister.