Parity The Problem

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – “The problem,” said Darrell Waltrip, “is parity. Parity is bad for any sport.”

You couldn’t prove it by any of America’s major sports, could you? They love parity. Every year, it seems as though the National Football League has another Cinderella team in the Super Bowl. If it’s not the Patriots, it’s the Ravens, and if it’s not the Ravens, it’s the Titans.

NASCAR’s actions, it seems to me, have been ridiculous. The absolute authority of stock car racing gave Ford teams a quarter inch on the height of their rear spoilers at the end of off-season testing, and then, after watching Daytona 500 qualifying and the Budweiser Shootout, gave them another quarter inch.

After the Shootout, one car representing each make was packed up in a transporter and shipped to the wind tunnel for testing. Why was that? Before the four cars were even off the Daytona International Speedway property, a rules change was announced.

“This rule change was not based on the wind tunnel,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “This was based on what we saw out on the racetrack.”

That was pretty obvious, wasn’t it?

Then there is the matter of the shape of the Ford Taurus and the shape of the Dodge Intrepid, which, to the naked eye, are identical. They’re not identical back at the rear spoiler, though. As these words are written, the Taurus spoiler is a half-inch lower than the Intrepid.

How can this possibly be?

Once upon a time, Waltrip recalled, when teams complained that one car was better than another, the standard NASCAR reply was, “Go build a better race car.”

Now, in effect, NASCAR builds it for them. Now teams rely on NASCAR to solve their problems for them. NASCAR, it seems, is all too willing to do so.

The all-knowing technical experts of NASCAR can exchange knowing glances because, in their minds, they're getting the last laugh here. Go ahead, make us look stupid, they can say. Write what you want. Last year 19 different drivers won races. By gosh, that’s parity. By gosh, that justifies all our actions. Nineteen different drivers got to share the wealth and headlines. Everybody got a piece of the pie.

Oh, somebody had to win the championship, but to NASCAR, Jeff Gordon’s six victories were acceptable. Gordon wasn’t able to dominate. He wasn’t able to win at least 10 races, like he did for four straight seasons in the 1990s.

Even the champion was under NASCAR’s control. They didn’t let him run wild: not him, not Tony Stewart, not Dale Jarrett, not the new Dodges, not anybody or anything.

NASCAR controlled the outcomes, if not directly, then at least indirectly.

The trouble with parity is that, in the end, it doesn’t satisfy the fans. Fans want good guys and bad guys, and who is good and who is bad depends on each person. To some, Gordon is a good guy. To others, he is a goody two shoes, and in the rough 'n' tough world of stock car racing, that is a bad guy.

It might be possible for Gordon to go right on being the Dallas Cowboys (at least when they were coached by Tom Landry) of NASCAR. Stewart could easily blossom into the Oakland Raiders. Gordon could be Roy Rogers. Stewart could be Clint Eastwood. Gordon could be Jay Leno. Stewart could be David Letterman. The possibilities would seem to be endless.

One cannot help but wonder if NASCAR feels threatened by budding superstars. They might make too much money. They might get too big for their britches.

NASCAR’s leaders fret about the racing being equal. What they ought to be willing to settle for is competition that is equivalent.

Everyone doesn’t have to be just alike. It’s OK for a Gordon to be different from a Stewart. It's all right for a Dodge to look different from a Ford.

NASCAR would probably say if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

But it wasn’t broke back in 1981. Why did NASCAR, in a period of two decades, turn its back on everything it stood for?

Originally, William H.G. France called his top division “Strictly Stock.” Until the late 1990s, while the cars certainly were no longer Strictly Stock, they at least bore some superficial resemblance to actual cars that people drove on the street.

Now the cars wear decals that simulate head- and taillights. That’s the only reason it is possible to tell which make is which. The General Motors cars look somewhat different than the Daimler-Fords.

Once the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying races are over, NASCAR may change the rules again. They may change the rules before Rockingham the following week. They may change the rules every week ... or every day.

The control freaks have run absolutely amok.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

Photos

  • 1994 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 1995 Brickyard Winner: Dale Earnhardt
  • 1996 Brickyard Winner: Dale Jarrett
  • 1997 Brickyard Winner: Ricky Rudd
  • 1998 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 1999 Brickyard Winner: Dale Jarrett
  • 2000 Brickyard Winner: Bobby Labonte
  • 2001 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 2002 Brickyard Winner: Bill Elliott
  • 2003 Brickyard Winner: Kevin Harvick
  • 2004 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 2005 Brickyard Winner: Tony Stewart
  • 2006 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2007 Brickyard Winner: Tony Stewart
  • 2008 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2009 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2010 Brickyard Winner: Jamie McMurray
  • 2011 Brickyard Winner: Paul Menard
  • 2012 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2013 Brickyard Winner: Ryan Newman
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