Most people would have to agree the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is one of the most competitive we have seen in quite some time.
Whether it's the implementation of the new points system, the balance of competitiveness amongst the new cars or the quality of talent from all of the drivers, you can definitely say there is some parity within NASCAR right now.
Coming from a huge NASCAR fan, parity is a great thing for the sport.
Some would argue there isn't as much parity as I am claiming. Their argument would be that Kevin Harvick already has three wins this year, which is one quarter of the events run. Just because he has that many wins certainly doesn't mean he is going out and dominating races, though.
In Harvick's three wins this year, he has led a combined nine laps. For the season, Harvick has led just 108 of the 4,081 laps run, which is 12th most of all drivers.
Conversely, Kyle Busch, who leads all drivers with 852 laps led, only finds himself in fifth place in the points standings through 12 races.
With so much parity in the sport, you have no idea who is going to win from week to week, and that adds so much excitement.
We all know stars like Jimmie Johnson and Busch are going to score their fair share of wins, but this year, we are seeing unheralded young stars make a name for themselves as well.
Last season, Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer all scored multiple wins. So far this year, they have a combined zero wins. On the flip side of the coin, young stars Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith each have one win this year, a first for both drivers.
Not too many people would have predicted that at the beginning of the year.
To further show how level the playing field is this season, think about this: Jeff Burton, a 21-race winner throughout his career, has yet to score a top-10 finish so far this year, and he has had some very strong runs through the first 12 races.
Carefully look at each driver's top-10 finishes and you will see some another surprising fact—Jeff Gordon has a total of three top-10s through 12 races.
That is the same number as Smith, Paul Menard and AJ Allmendinger.
That group of drivers has just one more top-10 than David Gilliland, and they trail the likes of David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose, who each have four top 10s.
The casual fan tuning in to watch a race doesn't want to see the same driver win week after week, unless of course it's their favorite driver doing all the winning.
It's more fun watching a race where at the end of it, a handful of drivers have a chance to win. It's no different at the end of the year, when we are trying to crown a champion.
While Johnson winning five straight championships is certainly impressive and a testament to how good a driver he is, and how good the team is, the fact remains—unless you are a Johnson fan, watching him win year after year gets boring. It may even make you not want to watch at all.
You go into a season feeling like you already know the end result, and when you have that feeling, there is no point in watching.
Television ratings have reflected that line of thinking over the last few years. On the whole, the viewership in 2009 was down from 2008. The downward trend continued as the 2010 ratings dipped from what they were the previous year.
This year, the trend appears to be reversing. So far in 2011, only two races have seen their viewership decline from last year's numbers.
As a fan, it is exciting not knowing who is going to win. It's exciting knowing that drivers like Smith and Ragan have just as good a chance to win as the drivers they have seemingly been chasing for years.
Parity is great for NASCAR. It adds an element of the unknown, which for a long time was missing from the sport.
While the sport definitely needs its top stars in victory lane on a consistent basis, every once in a while, it's a nice, refreshing change of pace to see one of the underdogs of the sport pull off an upset as well.
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