NASCAR: Is the ‘parity’ being drastically overhyped?

Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

It’s been over a month since a team other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports won a NASCAR Cup Series race, yet all we hear about is parity.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season opened up with a unique set of winners in the first five races, including two who had never won before, one who entered the season with just one career win, one who hadn’t won since 2019 and another who one just once last year.

The series hadn’t seen two straight first-time winners to open up the season since 1950, the second ever season of competition, and one career win among the first three winners to start the season was a mark that hadn’t been beaten since the sport’s inaugural season when nobody entered the year with a win.

This “parity”, coupled with the fact that the 2021 season is the final season with the current car, has even led to talks about potentially getting more than 16 winners in the 26 regular season winners, which would led to at least one winner missing the postseason.

We would need more than 11 new ones in the final 21 regular season events to make that happen.

There are definitely more than 11 drivers capable of winning who haven’t yet done so. Under the current format, there have never been more than 13 different regular season winners.

But the fact that we are almost halfway there already has people talking — specifically about Michael McDowell, who won the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway for his first career victory in 358 starts, the second highest start total all-time for a first-time winner, but has already fallen outside of the top 10 in the point standings.

However, is all this talk about parity being overhyped?

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Yes and no. Yes, because five winners in the first five races is nothing new. In fact, this is the fourth time it has happened in the last nine seasons. It’s not like five different drivers have won one of the first five Formula 1 races or something.

We’re fortunate just to get five different winners throughout an entire 23-race season in that series. In fact, to get five different champions, you have to go back to the 2007 season. The Cup Series has seen five different ones in a row. But I digress.

Additionally, look at the teams that have won. Sure, McDowell drives for Front Row Motorsports, which hadn’t won a race since 2016, but he led only the final lap of a race that is known for producing bizarre results. So in the grand scheme of things, take that with a grain of salt.

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The next four races have all gone to the usual suspects: Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Sure, the drivers who have won may not have been the drivers who you’d have expected based on last year, but to call wins by Christopher Bell, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. — half of the HMS/JGR octet — “upset” wins is a complete misrepresentation of what went down. While they may have combined for just two wins last year, there’s a reason they’re driving for the teams they are with.

Team Penske have been the only other team to really come close to keeping up, having recorded three runner-up finishes so far this season. Hendrick Motorsports took one themselves, and the only other one was earned by Richard Childress Racing after Tyler Reddick passed both Larson and Truex in the closing laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

So that’s eight out of 10 top two finishes for three teams, and that easily could have been nine or 10. And which three teams occupied last year’s entire Championship 4? Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

But on the other hand, there has still definitely been an element of surprise, and that element of surprise has led to those “what if there are more than 16 winners?” talks.

The five drivers who combined to win 28 of the 36 races on last year’s schedule are all 0 for 5 this season, and that quintet includes four drivers from the aforementioned three powerhouse teams.

Ironically, the driver who won the most (nine) just so happens to be Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, and Stewart-Haas Racing’s lack of speed thus far this season has been somewhat of a surprise after they led the series with 10 last year.

Still, with all things considered, it’s the usual teams competing at the front, taking the wins and/or just missing out, and suffice it to say that it shouldn’t be long for the “perennial contenders” such as Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to start winning for those organizations.

Will the 2021 season become the first to see six different winners in the first six races since the 2014 season this Sunday, March 21? The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is set to be broadcast live on Fox from Atlanta Motor Speedway beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET.

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Kevin Harvick won this race last season and has won it in two of the last three years. Brad Keselowski has won it in two of the last four.