It's rampant. Whenever the No. 43 car is mentioned, there has to be some superlative thrown in there, a reminder this isn't some mere hunk of aluminium and steel with a pushrod V-8 in the front. No, this race car is "famed ... iconic ...legendary."
This is Richard Petty's car, the winningest car ever.
Decades have passed. Victory lanes haven't been found. Organizational flux has changed the name of the race team, and the make of that pushrod under the hood.
It's 2012. What remains of the No. 43's relevance is limping by on the fumes of a sepia-toned yesteryear.
The media and fans need to stop fooling themselves, quit perpetuating the myth. The No. 43 today isn't Richard Petty's No. 43. It's not the STP-sponsored rocket with The King at the wheel, blasting down the Daytona backstretch en route to another win that paved the way for another title. As of today, it's driven by someone with no victories with a sponsorship from Smithfield Foods. They make pork products, though it would take Google for most of America to know that.
Jimmy Johnson has Lowes. The 43: shredded pig.
The only thing shared with Petty's unstoppable MOPAR machine is the number itself—a hallow charade. This is no different than a bad baseball team wearing throwbacks from a successful time from long ago.
The current 43 is a lower-tier car on the circuit that's put together by a Frankenstein of failed teams. They use the Petty name for its inherited cachet; Ray Evernham Motorsports doesn't get fans tingling. Even without wins or front-running, with "Petty" in the moniker, it's "legendary."
When news came that Aric Almirola would be taking over, the fawning over the "famed" 43 began again. Why? The car's DOA once the green flag drops. And Almirola isn't a winning driver; nobody should expect him to contend. He has upside, but he's no Chase-maker.
NASCAR as an organization has made steps to move on. To stay relevant they need stars, winners, transcendent personalities. They need Carl Edwards doing flips and appearing in Subway commercials. They need Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica to contend. They need the Busch boys acting out just enough—a spin or spat will do—to warrant a couple moments of mainstream attention on NFL-centric sports opinion shows.
Diehards complain, but NASCAR's not losing the diehards. They'll always be enough of them there, flying their "3" and "43" flags in the infield, complaining—over and over again—about how the Chase ruined the sport.
No, what hurts sports is a stuck-in-the-past mentality. Being adverse to change—shunning innovation is the death knell. Sure, honor history, but don't tether yourself to it like it's a lifeline. The NBA doesn't need Michael Jordan's presence at big events anymore; same with football and its legends.
Fast-forward to 2014. Another two winless seasons have passed for Petty and that No. 43. Yet, whenever that car's mentioned in the press, a superlative won't be far behind.