After years of flirting with the idea, NASCAR instituted a common-template rule at the start of this season. By mandating that every Chevy, Dodge, Ford and Pontiac have an identical body style, NASCAR sought to eliminate any aerodynamic disparity and to create a level playing field. After 15 races in which 12 drivers have celebrated in Victory Lane this year, it's clear that NASCAR has gotten its wish. And that, according to many drivers, is not a good thing.
"Frankly, I don't like parity," says Matt Kenseth, who holds a 185-point lead in the points standings despite winning only one race. "I think it's more exciting for our fans to have a guy winning a lot of races and have everybody chasing him."
Parity has generated a few feel-good stories in which improbable drivers have won races this year (Hello, Ricky Craven and Joe Nemechek) and then returned to obscurity. At the same time, NASCAR desperately needs a star who commands the public's attention, not in fits and starts but on a weekly basis. It needs a dominant hero such as Richard Petty, whose record 27 checkered flags in 1967 made him a recognizable face even to nonracing fans. Or it could use a precocious villain such as Jeff Gordon, who inspired a nation of number 24 haters with his 13-win season in '98 but whose success also created an anticipatory buzz at the track that has not been matched since.
For the foreseeable future, NASCAR will have neither. "The days of a guy winning a bunch of races are over," says longtime racer Jimmy Spencer. "The competition is just too even now."