Is it a dirty word, or isn’t it? You certainly hear it a lot, tossed around in conversation, sometimes like a shining example of what racing should strive for, but sometimes more like a bug to be squashed before it gets too big.
The truth is probably, as it so often really is, somewhere in between. Without some level of parity, there’s no variety in NASCAR. One manufacturer, one team, even one driver would run away with everything with which there is to run away.
You say that happens now? It could be much, much worse.
Right now there are several teams capable of winning, with cars fast enough if the driver can make the move and the crew can make the adjustments and stops. Teams can enter the sport at the top level and grow, even to top-tier status, over time. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money, and not everyone will make it even with plenty of both, but there is a chance. That’s important.
It’s also important for even underdog teams to have a fighting chance to be competitive. Fans pull for the underdog. They like to harbor at least the illusion that the stars could align for one of these drivers. NASCAR needs to keep that it-could-happen ideology alive and well, even if it is largely unlikely.
There’s a definite and delicate balance here: keeping the sport such that there are plenty of competitive teams and the idea that anything can happen remains alive versus homogenizing the whole deal. It’s a pretty fine line, and NASCAR has erred toward the latter more often than the former. But where does party come from — and where does it go too far?
Parity among manufacturers
This one’s important for a few reasons. One, NASCAR has seen dwindling participation from manufacturers over the last couple of decades. Part of that’s because General Motors dropped the Pontiac label, but it’s also because Dodge dropped out of the game. Yes, Toyota came in, but there’s still not much variety.
There are plenty of race fans whose loyalty lies with manufacturer first, driver second. If those fans feel that their make is at an unfair disadvantage, it’s not a good look for NASCAR.
Is there some sour grapes in that? Of course. And NASCAR doesn’t need to return to the 1990s car wars when makes were lobbying for—and getting—changes seemingly every other week in an attempt to gain an advantage.
It simply needs to be as fair as possible, with no team at a disadvantage simply because of the cars in its stable. So far this year, we’ve had that, and fan response has been very favorable as a result. That’s what everyone involved needs.
Parity among teams
Also important—to a point. Sponsorship costs skyrocketed in the early and mid-2000s and that hurt everyone, even the teams responsible, but particularly the smaller teams because the gaps in budgets among top, mid-tier and small teams widened to the point where that anything-can-happen illusion has faded considerably.
Some kind of spending cap is becoming increasingly more worth exploring. But that’s where this one should end.
Teams need to have the ability to find their own advantages. That doesn’t have to mean a free-for-all of spending or overly creative engineering, just allowing teams to discover their own speed.
Absolutely necessary. But not the way NASCAR is doing it now.
Hopefully the next-generation engine package will allow for lower horsepower without the restriction of the current tapered spacer.
Yes, teams will find ways to produce more power, and NASCAR needs to monitor and adjust to that. And anyone whose engine doesn’t meet the rules should be in big, big trouble with the powers that be. While choice and innovation are important in other aspects of the cars, the engines have been virtually untouchable over the years, and that needs to remain a level, fair playing field.
Parity elsewhere in the rule book
This is where the dirty connotation comes from. While tightening down the rules to where there is little to no choice for teams and few areas for them to work on cars to make them to the drivers’ liking does save money, it also makes it harder for teams to put races in the drivers’ hands. And at the end of the day, races need to be in the drivers’ hands.
While manufactures shouldn’t have an inherent advantage, spending should be controlled to keep advantages from being solely monetary and engine rules should be rock solid, teams should absolutely be able to find their own advantages.
What works for one driver might not for another. A certain suspension setup could be an advantage or a disadvantage based on who’s driving it—and that’s how this whole thing should work. A certain gear selection might make a team faster, but it might also implode under a certain driving style and end the day early for a team.
Those risks need to be a part of the game. The playing field should be level and the rules fair, but teams need to be able to write their own playbooks.
That’s real parity, the parity NASCAR needs.